In many parts of the world, there is an ancient custom called “chalking the door” that celebrates Epiphany. It is a ritual for the faithful to mark their houses, usually at the front or main entrance, with sacred signs and symbols asking God’s blessing upon those who live, work, or visit throughout the coming year. The service commonly takes place on Twelfth-Night, January 6th, celebrated as Epiphany. The day commemorates the visitation of the Christ Child by the three Magi with their gifts of gold, incense, and myrrh. Many families gather in their homes to celebrate this feast with friends, food, singing, and gifts.
The initials CMB, framed by the numerals of the new year, are chalked onto the building’s overhead. If you see “20 C + M + B 20,” hand-lettered in impermanent, dusty characters, then you’ll know that the dwelling you’re entering is a place of blessing and welcome. C M B refers to the first initials of the names traditionally ascribed to the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, whose visit to the infant Jesus is commemorated on the Feast of Epiphany. It also signifies the Latin phrase, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, “May Christ bless this dwelling.”
Now you may be asking what is the purpose of this playful, historically obscure ritual? Why use this ordinary substance made of common elements of the earth to mark this festival and New Year? Chalk is erasable, not permanent, its image fades from view over time and must be done again and again, year after year. And maybe that is the point – that at this time of Epiphany or ‘showing forth’ of Christ, we too rededicate ourselves to the purpose of blessing our homes and more importantly the people who come and go through its doors. Maybe the point is that we rededicate not just our homes but more importantly our hearts to the people in our lives, family, friends and even strangers to Christ’s epiphany in our lives.
This coming Sunday, January 12 at 4 p.m., the first Sunday following the day of Epiphany, the people of St. Barnabas are celebrating with food and the symbols of Epiphany: light, wisemen, and kings' cake! We will also celebrate the tradition of Epiphany chalk as we say a blessing over our sacred space, and especially our newly furnished Godly Play rooms. As the New Year begins we pray that all who enter and depart the red doors of St. Barnabas may enjoy God’s blessing. May we also rededicate our hearts that we may receive that same blessing of God’s presence and blessing on the year ahead.
May the Lord watch over our going out and our coming in,
from this time forth forevermore.