That thing that happens at the end of worship services I conduct is strange. We’ve sung the songs, heard, or in my case preached, the sermon, prayed, received word of the offering and announcements, and then, there’s the closing blessing.
I raise my hands high and wide in a way I never do in normal life. Then I speak not only with personal confidence, but with a spiritually-authorized and church-sanctioned surety. On behalf of God, I bless the people in range. It is one of the great privileges of ministry to speak for God in this way. That’s why some preachers leave of bit of Vulcan space between certain fingers (https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2878949/jewish/Is-the-Vulcan-Salute-a-Jewish-Symbol.htm). The Spirit of God just might peep through and make you to live long and prosper. That privilege is also why seminarians (pastors-in-training) are advised not to raise their hands in blessing; they’re not ordained yet and don’t have official authorization. Blessing with the kind of force that pastors use ranks right up there with baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Meanwhile, no matter how haywire things go during a service, nor how rough the week at home has been, nor how strained church issues can become in any given month, nor how much a relief it might be to have survived a clunker sermon (yes, I usually know when that happens), there is still blessing. Favor always remains the Will of God for His people.
During the past year, my daughters got a real kick out of me being present for my own pre-recorded services. “Daddy, you have to bless yourself! Put your hands out to receive it! (insert raucous laughter here)” It’s a good thing, then, that it’s not actually the pretentiousness of me blessing me, but the reality of God’s love expressed through my words even to me. When I bless at the ends of services, I do have a real sense that those words, “may the Lord bless you and keep you” are not my words, but God’s.
But a couple Sundays ago, it was different.
I was closing with the best-known blessing, that one from the book of Numbers that God tells the high priest Aaron to use on the Israelites. About halfway through, I caught myself a little. I realized that rather than just being a conduit for God to speak, I also really meant those words for my congregation. Certainly, I always have, but that Sunday, I felt it. Those words became more than my echoes of the still small voice of the Almighty. “May the Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you” were also my words and my hopes for these people.
Of course, such blessings take on an added dimension as New Hope Church and I prepare to part. They are words of farewell, last words for continued life, and among the ending notes of a seven-plus-year opus. Soli Deo Gloria.
And to you, dear readers? The blog will continue. Writing is something that spills over if I don’t pour it out. But meanwhile, now and always, “may the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
And all God’s people said…