This past week, my religion students read about the passing of the baton from Moses to Joshua. They read how Moses layed hands upon Joshua - and then Joshua went forth and led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
It was a moment for an object lesson. The young people in that class were about to witness a great thing. Four of them had older brothers and sisters who would be Confirmed that night.
The Bishop was coming. In a few hours, he would lay hands upon their siblings and their newly Confirmed brothers and sisters would be ready. Ready to fulfill the work God had called them to do.
Their Jordan River awaits.
The Promised Land is within sight.
And it is set into motion with the laying on of hands.
I wanted them to understand that it is a real event - a tangible thing - this laying on of hands.
The Bishop would lay hands upon our young people, just as the Holy Father had layed hands upon him, and the Bishop would invoke the Holy Spirit's help. It had been done this way for 2000 years.
From Jesus to Peter - all the way to Pope Benedict XVI and Bishop Rice.
The very real touch of the hand goes all the way back to Jesus Christ.
As I explained this great tradition - laying on of hands - I remembered something. It is something I had not thought about for a long time.
When I was their age, my father was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor. He was installed as the pastor of two small parishes in northern Iowa. This ordination and installation required a laying on of hands. I remember seeing my father kneel, seeing some of the elders in the church gather around him, and see them place their hands upon my father as they prayed.
The ritual was as old as Sacred Scripture.
But something was missing. I did not realize this back then. I do now.
The thing that was missing was something we call apostolic succession. The prayer was real. The laying on of hands was real. The Holy Spirit was there. And the faith was real.
But the ones who stood around my father with their hands touching my dad's head - they were not part of a tangible line of apostles. Nobody had layed hands on them. Nobody had anointed them and sent them. There was no apostle in the family tree.
The literal laying-on-of-hands could not be traced all the way back to St. Peter and Jesus.
But the Confirmation students I had taught for months - the ones who were about to be Confirmed - they COULD say this.
The hands that would touch them tonight really were part of the apostolic chain that went all the way back to Jesus Christ.
I think about Dad in moments like this. I wish he had experienced this historical connection to the early Church. I wish he had known what I have discovered.
And yet, it is enough. I have made peace with even this.
I believe my father was taken along a path that went just so far. And no farther. I believe he went to the edge of the Promised Land, and then, in a mystery I cannot explain, I was sent to go the rest of the way.
I have stepped into the Jordan, following after priests and the New Ark of the Covenant. I have seen the waters part again. And I have stepped into the promise. A land filled with gifts. All for the asking.
Wisdom and understanding.
Right judgment and courage.
Knowledge and reverence.
Wonder and awe in the Lord.
Come, Holy Spirit!