Have you ever wondered where the chain letters/mails, WhatsApp chain messages and social media challenges originated?
During this month of the Holy Spirit, it is fitting that we remember that one of the first occurrences of these peculiar modes of communication was launched by the Christ himself.
Precisely 53 years after Jesus ascended into heaven.
According to Dr. Earle Havens*: ‘[Jesus] decided he had some unfinished business.’
And so the story goes:
Jesus tells Angel Gabriel to take note.
Angel Gabriel takes the note down to earth ‘Seventy-four years after Our Saviour’s birth’**.
Angel Gabriel places the note under ‘a great stone round and large’.
The stone says: ‘Blessed is he that shall turn me over’.
Passers-by try in vain to turn the stone over.
Dr. Havens tells us how the story ends: ‘And so everyone walks by, and they say, well, I don’t mind being blessed. And they try to pick up this rock. And they can’t, until a little boy who’s never sinned easily picks it up. And he sees this miraculous letter. It’s taken to the Holy Land. And it says, basically, Jesus has decided to change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.’
As chain letters, these apocryphal Christian letters called ‘Letters from Heaven’ or Himmelsbrief requested the recipient to copy or publish and then disseminate them.
And as many chain letters, a Letter from Heaven offers protection and blessing at best, and a divine punishment at worst:
‘[…] he that hath a copy of this my own letter, written with my own hand, and spoken with my own mouth, and keepeth it without publishing it to others shall not prosper; but he that publisheth it to others, shall be blessed of me, and though his sins be in number as the stars of the sky, and he believe in this he shall be pardoned; and if he believe not in this writing, and this commandment, I will send my own plagues upon him, and consume both him and his children, and his cattle.’
I have never ever participated in any chain letters nor social media challenges – cursed I am, and many times!
Drawing on the tradition of the Letters from Heaven, my score “those that do not shall be cursed” reproduces the simple instructions given by Jesus and typed out by Angel Gabriel:
- place a note or any object of your choice under ‘a great stone round and large’.
- write down on the stone or on the ground: ‘Blessed are those that shall turn me over’.
Considering the current catastrophic situation, this gesture better brings us some luck, or magical protection…
*Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Sheridan Libraries at Johns Hopkins University, interviewed on NPR Weekend Edition Saturday show (29 November 2014)
**Read the full transcript of ‘A copy of a letter written by our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and found eighteen miles from Iconiam; to which is added King Agbarus’s letter to our Saviour, and our Saviour’s answer; likewise, Lentulus’s epistle to the Senate of Rome, containing a description of the person of Jesus Christ” ([London, 1795?]): http://www.silcom.com/~barnowl/chain-letter/archive/he1795u_jesus_sab+4.htm
A copy of a letter written by our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ produced in England. Date uncertain.
(Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)