Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Blessing

Laura and I are writing about worship for kids and today I worked on the blessing.  This is one of those mysterious things that are sometimes hard to get a handle on.  Here are some of the things I wrote about it:

In many churches, as we close our time of worship the pastor raises his or her hands and speaks familiar words: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  These words, known as the Aaronic blessing, were given to Moses in Numbers 6.  God told Moses that these are the words Aaron was to use to bless the people of Israel.

Blessings have been given by a number of people in the Bible and it is clear that they have a weight to them that goes beyond just mere words.  In Genesis 27, for example, Jacob tricked Isaac to get his blessing.  When Esau discovered this he asked his father "Haven't you reserved any blessing for me?"  Isaac answered Esau, "I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?"  Today, if one of our children tricked us into saying something nice about them we’d just say we didn’t really mean it or we’d say “I thought I was promising these things to Esau” but there was something about the power of this blessing that Isaac gave Jacob that went beyond the words used.  There was something else happening here as well.

David Stubbs writes that a blessing is “a calling for the Holy Spirit to come and transform us.”  Being blessed by God, he writes, “means that we become holy, reflective of God and the purposes of God.”  There is clearly something more to a blessing then just a word of encouragement.  The power of the blessing seems to have been diluted somewhat over the years so that we really don’t expect God to transform us because of the words spoken.  But blessings given in the Bible suggest that these words are powerful and they have to power to transform us and to make us holy and reflective of God.  The actual nuts and bolts of what happens when we are blessed is mysterious.  Somehow, something special happens.  It’s hard to put our finger exactly on what it is but God is working in our lives in a way to transform us into his servants.  He is preparing us to do his work, to be his agents in the world.  We are blessed so that we can go out of worship prepared to bless others.

Because of this, the words of blessing at the end of our worship are often coupled with a charge, calling us to go out into the world as God’s servants.  God tells us “Go out into the world but know that I go with you.”  Just as God calls us and welcomes us into worship, he also sends us forth ready and able to do His work.  Many of the blessings that we hear come from the closings of Paul’s letters.  These letters were about a variety of topics, usually in response to specific needs and issues related to the people to whom Paul was writing.  In the same way, his words of blessing to them have the effect of saying “OK, now that I’ve told you about this, you need to go and do it.”  Just as the believers in Cornith or in Phillipi, we are given God’s blessing and sent out to do God’s work.


Ron Hatton said...

A beautiful reflection on blessing, which we have indeed diluted over the ages. So many times, the only way we ever hear anyone blessing anyone is when a person sneezes! :-)
The blessing does indeed confer something on the person blessed, as we call down God's graces, mercies, etc., upon the one whom we bless. It is almost a sacrament, if you look at the story of Isaac blessing his sons: even though Jacob tricked Isaac, Isaac couldn't "take it back," and the blessing was fulfilled in Jacob's life, despite the means by which it was received. (It's nice to remember how Jacob still had to repent of his trickery when he later had to confront Esau!)
Sometimes I feel that my tradition of saying to someone "God bless you" upon a departure may begin to sound cliched after a while, but I pray that it doesn't, that the person does receive it as a gift from me to them for the strength and grace to do what God wants for that person.
In the words at the end of our Liturgy, I say to you: "The blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and loving kindness always, now and unto the ages of ages. Amen."

bethany said...

my comment got a little overgrown and can me found on my blog, here