The laying on of hands is ancient tradition in the church by which we ask God’s blessing upon our leaders. This was the practice of the early apostles. It was also true of Jesus, who conferred healing and wholeness through touch. Dipping into the stories of Israel, I think of Moses laying hands on Joshua to transfer leadership, and old Jacob with his wrinkled and withered hands on the heads of his grandsons. Sunday night, my wife, Ginny, was included in this legacy at her service of ordination.
Typically, the one being ordained kneels on the floor; but an exception was made for this very pregnant woman. Joking that Presbyterians are not always so somber and dour, our friend pulled out a chair for her to sit on. Then, she invited those who were previously ordained to come forward. That’s what I had been waiting for! I jumped up and was the first at Ginny’s side.
Here is what I love most about the laying on of hands: the human connection. In this rite, others are physically present. And so, I had my hand on Ginny’s head, and my father had his on my shoulder. Some of our dearest friends from seminary were on the opposite side; our colleagues in the area just behind them. There were more people too, some present in other ways. As the prayer was read, I thought about my grandfather, now dead, but whose hand was on top of my head over two years ago. It was as if he, too, was reaching out, touching my heart.
I mentioned that Ginny was sitting in a chair because she is thirty-five weeks pregnant. Before the service, some of the pastors were joking about whether the ordination rights were passed along in utero. Was our son now authorized to preside over Holy Communion? It was the silly talk of adults who are more nervous than they’d like to admit before such a powerful event. But nonetheless, there was a certain poignancy…
When Ginny was talking about the service on the ride home, she informed me that our son was wiggling around the entire time during the laying on of hands. He, too, was a part of the connection of those who reach across time and space from Ancient Israel to present day Virginia – a holy communion, a laying on of hearts.