[These are continuing reflections on the familiar (to some) benediction from Numbers 6. For other posts in this series, click here.]
God gave me parents who saw to it that I was raised in a church. That church, the Loveland (Ohio) United Methodist Church, was a good collection of unpretentious people following Jesus in a small town in the 1960s, and they blessed me.
When I was a teen, I attended the church’s youth group, the “MYF” – Methodist Youth Fellowship. At the end of each meeting we would all stand in a circle, hold hands, and speak the words of this blessing to one another:
“The Lord bless you and keep you….”
After that we would lift our arms over one another’s heads and, still holding hands, form a tight circle and sing together the first verse of the hymn ‘Blessed be the tie that binds.’ I know we did not think deeply if at all about what we were doing. But we were doing something right. We were sharing a blessing corporately which was the way it was meant to be shared.
Each ‘you’ in this benediction is singular, and yet, the blessing was never singular in intent. Aaron and his sons were commanded to speak it to ‘the people of Israel,’ over many people considered as one. It is now given to the gathered people of God considered as a single entity. It belongs to the church.
Through this blessing God says, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (Numbers 6:27) When I entered into the covenant of marriage with my wife, I put my name upon her. I became a husband to her and she a wife to me. In sharing that name our unity could be seen. To speak this word over the people of God is to remind them that they, together as the church, belong to God in a devoted, committed, dependent relationship.
This does not mean that the blessing does not have individual application. It is not as if the church somehow is the object of God’s favor and not me as an individual. But it does mean that God’s heart is for his collective body. The blessing promised to me comes through my being a part of that body. To be of the church is to be in that place of blessing. To gather as teens with hands clasped was to be in the place where the name of the Lord was placed. So it was then, so it is now.
Elsewhere, this chord is played.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!…
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. (Psalm 133:1, 3)
His blessing rests upon that place where God’s people dwell as one people. There his name, his blessing, is placed.
My growth and stability through my teen years were not of my own doing. They were not a result of my careful practice of the spiritual disciplines or a result of a fortuitous set of high school friendships. It was a result of being placed in the place of blessing, among a people upon whom God put his name. So the church remains for the people of God.