My cardiologist told me the other day, “It is a privilege to spend time with those who are dying.”
I didn’t think my heart was that bad.
Turns out it isn’t. She was speaking generally about the privilege that she, along with others like nurses and pastors, have in walking with people through some of their darkest times.
It is a privilege. But I get to do more. I get to bless.
At the end of every worship service, I stand in some liturgically significant place and with hands lifted over the congregation, speak words, frequently these:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
If we are lucky, we’ve heard these words (taken from Numbers 6) so often that they are like warm bread to us: comforting, familiar, and certain. They have become a part of who we are.
God gave these words to Aaron to be spoken over his people. “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel,” God said. This people, weary of traveling and not yet receiving the things promised them, needed assurances. And so God gave them words of blessing.
But they are not mere words. All the goodness and intention of God lies behind them. When spoken from God to us we are drawn into a reality that is not yet but is nevertheless certain. Our impatience with life invites despair. Things are not the way we long for them to be. We long for life to get better, for the pain to disappear, for the conflict to pass. We grow desperate, perhaps despondent.
And then I or some other pastor stands and speaks these words into our darkness because God blesses his people.
Years ago my wife and I, with a toddler and an infant, sat in a state of desperation. We had moved everything to St. Louis to follow our sense of God’s call to seminary. But I had no job, and we were out of money. We put the kids to bed, sat on the edge of the bed in our apartment and sang a hymn.
“Jesus, I am resting, resting in the joy of what thou art….”
With this hymn we affirmed that we knew
“…thy certainty of promise and have made it mine.”
And we wept.
Yes, we knew the promise, and we wanted to believe its certainty, but we were having trouble making it our own.
Words of blessing like the ones we are here considering are necessary in such times. They serve as a bridge between what we know and yet struggle to make our own. They take the certainty of God’s promise and declare it to be real that we may rest now in what is yet future.
There is power in these words when spoken over the people of God gathered in worship that cannot be fully appreciated in a blog post, or twenty. Nevertheless, I’d like to spend some time teasing out some of this particular benediction’s richness in posts that will appear here every other week so that we might better know the certainty of his promise and make it our own.
Especially in those dark times through which we are each called to walk.