There is one great question that I think we have all wondered at one time or another, ‘why do we say “bless you” when a person sneezes?’ Think about it for a moment we don’t wish a person a blessing when they cough, sniffle, crying, burp or pass gas. Why has sneezing become such an honoured or feared bodily function?
I suspect we have all heard some of the explanations for why we have to bless sneezers. Some say it is because we once believed a sneeze temporality stopped your heart. Others may have heard the notion that people once believed that when we sneezed our soul tried to escape our body, or worse still an evil spirit was trying to get it.
There is one report that I read that said that Pope Gregory the Great instituted this practise during the height of the black plague. Sneezing was an early symptom on one strain of the illness and it was thought a little extra divine help would be welcome.
The truth is no one is really sure how or why this practise started. It seems to date back as far at 77 AD, and many different cultures have adopted a similar practise. Maybe we just like to pass along a blessing from time to time.
Psalm 67 is all about passing along blessings to individuals and to the nation as a whole. This Psalm is David’s poetic rewriting of the Hebrew benediction. The Hebrew benediction is what God instructed Aaron and Moses to learn and to teach all of the Hebrews. That thought is pretty impressive. God took time to stop and make sure that we all knew how to wish God’s blessing and presence in each of our lives.
This is a practise we have to make sure we never stop doing. While I think we are all mindful to pray for people when they are in some sort of trouble or crisis, how often do we pause and offer a blessing on to each other. How often do we stop and ask God to not just get us out of a rough spot but to enrich the lives of others greatly with his presence.
Listen to some of the things that David says;
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us…. SO that your ways may be known on earth your salvation among all nations
May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.
Do you hear that David is telling the Israelites with this song? He is saying he wants all people to see the blessings of God with the hope that all people will in turn praise God.
This is something that needs to be our hope, and our goal as well. We need to live out our faith out in the open so all people can see the activity of God in our lives.
The temptation that we always face is to live out our faith in virtual secrete. This is compounded by the fact that the message of our culture is that faith fine but it ought to be kept at home. When these two things collide what we get is a faith that is hidden from sight. We lose the opportunity to invite others to witness the things God has been doing in our lives so they can praise him as well.
We must make sure our goal is to been seen as a presence that brings blessing and goodwill all over the community.One question a mentor of mine always challenged us to think about is this, ‘If this church suddenly disappeared would anyone notice? And those who did notice, would it be anything other than a minor inconvenience?” The church ought to be a welcomed blessing in whatever community it is in. If it is not, we are not doing it right. Period.
May God bless you, even when you didn’t just sneeze.