Back to the Prayerbook: Thanksgiving for a Child

On the first day of this month we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and until recently, I hadn’t thought much about it.  But this year I was struck.  For thousands of years we have stopped each year to celebrate, and still we stop.  We hold a feast, we celebrate the way that Jesus’ community named, circumcised, received, and upheld him at eight days old. The scriptures don’t tell us much about how it happened.  Luke tells us only that, “after eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”(Luke 2:21).  We imagine that faithful Jews gathered around Jesus on that day to receive him, and to celebrate the ways that Jesus’ given name would be a sign of the life that Jesus brought to the world. 

GraceduringworshipWe baptize children and adults, and at baptism we celebrate their initiation into the family of God.  Even before baptism, we receive children into our common life with the same joy, hope, and gratitude with which Jesus’ community received him.  Often, this hope and gratitude begins with the gathered community’s prayers for the Blessing of a Pregnant woman (Book of Occasional Services 157).  “As soon as is convenient after the birth [or adoption] of a child,” the prayerbook tells us, “the parents, with other members of the family should come to the church to be welcomed by the congregation and to give thanks to Almighty God.  It is desirable that this take place at a Sunday service.”  The “Thanksgiving for a Child” (BCP 439) gives us a way to receive, give thanks for, and uphold for every child that enters our common life, just as Jesus was received and upheld by his community.  We give thanks with Mary’s own song, finding her words fit to welcome a new child into the life of the church, because “whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself”(BCP 443).

 

The first Sunday after my premature son was released from the neonatal ICU, I took him to church in a tiny outfit, and cradled his four pound body on my shoulder.  I was surprised to see after the peace, that the priest was approaching me.  She took his tiny frame from me, and carefully held him high, walking around the nave for each member of the community to see him.  (It was a little bit like the closing scene in The Lion King, except that it was…you know…not a Disney cartoon.)  Her bold physical gesture in  holding him high, in upholding his tiny body on behalf of the gathered community remains imprinted in my memory.  As the priest held Isaac high in the air, the congregation prayed for and received him.  I knew, as I watched him held high, that he belonged to that small, gathered community of believers.   And I knew that I belonged too.

As I travel around our diocese, members of parishes speak their worry to me about not having enough young people in their midst.  It is a worrying thing.  And I know that babies don’t come to church every day.  But when babies do come to church, we’ve been called, equipped, and charged to give thanks in public, possibly gratuitous ways. We are called to receive every baby that enters our communities, and to celebrate the gifts those babies bring to God’s world with the same joy with which Jesus was received and celebrated  so long ago.  When babies are upheld in our parishes with publicly joyful hope and expectation, young parents are reminded that  in the stressful, sleepless months and years ahead, there remains a place for (even the noisy, smelly, defiant members of) their family at God’s table.  The Thanksgiving is, of course, just the beginning.  But it is a beautiful beginning indeed.

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