I was meditating on what to write this afternoon when I received an email from a friend in one of our parishes. Did I have a recommendation for where to order personalized Bibles as gifts for Confirmation?
I considered the week and the watching and waiting for the Second Coming of Christ found in the Gospel of Matthew assigned readings. The words of Christ in red cover several pages as he foretells the last days, the Judgment, Heaven and Earth. There is a winnowing, a sorting out of human souls, those who watched and were ready, those who cared for the poor, those who followed Christ’s commandments, those who bore good fruit, those who said yes to the wedding feast of the king. Those who didn’t do these things would be sent into outer darkness, where there would be gnashing of teeth. He mentions outer darkness a significant number of times to add authenticity to his words.
And then there was the lovely Friday Reflection, “Fraud Control,” by James M. Kushiner of Touchstone Magazine in which he writes of the importance of autographs as seals of authenticity. He cites St. Paul in his closing words to the church at Thessalonica (today Greece):
“The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.” (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18, KJV)
Paul uses the words, outo grapho, or “this is my handwriting,” the origins of autograph which meant any works handwritten by the author. Paul was concerned that others were forging letters to the churches, and so he emphasizes with his outo grapho that his letter is truly from him.
Just so, James Kushiner writes, the signs of Christ – his deeds – were his signature, affirming who he was and is.
Christians are named at Baptism, given “Christian” names, christened with signs all our own. Our name identifies us, separates us from others. Just so our autograph, our name written by our own hand, has long been used to ensure authenticity of documents. Today, with electronic signing and accounts that no longer require signatures we have nearly returned to the days of making our mark with an “X”, the mark of the illiterate, or no mark at all. We are identified by our passcodes, numbers. I am told that children are no longer taught cursive. What does that mean in terms of their signatures? A scribble or squiggle, I suppose. A fingerprint. A passcode.
In our national election we are currently concerned with signatures that match records on file so that voters are identified to be who they claim to be, living or dead, legitimate or fraudulent. Signatures still count, we hope.
Handwriting. Signatures. Fingerprints. Faces scanned.
Each one of us is so unique. We take this for granted but it is an amazing miracle that no two persons are identical. Even twins have unique markers, genetic as well. And so I fear we will not do well in the Judgment when we must say we allowed the genocide of several generations of unique human beings, children with all the identity markers we have, children that will never be born, children we will face in Heaven, should we survive the sorting.
As Christians we are assured of our salvation, to be sure, for we have Christ defending us; we have Christ standing for us before the throne of God, as long as we repent the times we looked away, the times we denied Christ, the times we were ashamed to speak. But we have been marked by Christ.
Just like the Bibles, we are personalized by our Creator. In the last days we will be marked with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, just as we were marked in our Baptisms with holy oil:
“WE receive this Child (or person) into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do *sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.” (1928 BCP, 280)
And when Confirmed, having been regenerated in Baptism, we are now given the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
“ALMIGHTY and everliving God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins; Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and daily increase in them thy manifold gifts of grace: the spirit of wisdom and under-standing, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, O Lord, with the spirit of thy holy fear, now and for ever. Amen.” (1928 BCP, 297)
We belong to Christ. We have been signed with his Cross, a blood red autograph. We are not ashamed to write, to speak, to love as he has taught us to do. At life’s end, we will hear his call, know his voice, and he will know each one of us. He will say, “Well done, good and faithful soldier and servant. Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven.”