I’ve been reading a passage from Ecclesiasticus for the last few weeks. Here is today’s passage, from chapter 50. It describes the worship in the newly restored Temple in Jerusalem. As the worship came to an end ….
Then the singers praised Him with their voices in sweet and full-toned melody.
And the people of the Lord Most High offered their prayers before the Merciful One,
until the order of worship of the Lord was ended, and they completed his ritual.
Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation of Israelites,
to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with his lips, and to glory in his name;
and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing from the Most High.
And now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders,
who fosters our growth from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy.
May he give us gladness of heart, and may there be peace in our days in Israel, as in the days of old.
May he entrust to us his mercy, and may he deliver us in our days!
The words that struck me today were these:
Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation to pronounce the blessing.
It reminded me most powerfully of the times when I have done exactly that. At the end of our worship – in the places where I have served as curate and as vicar – in Hull, Beverley, and Hoddesdon … and wherever I have had the privilege of leading God’s people in worship, I have raised my hands to pronounce the Benediction, the Blessing, using words like this:
May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His son Jesus Christ. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, remain with you, this day and always. Amen.
Or it might be those moments at the communion rail, as someone bows their head to indicate that they are here to receive a blessing – maybe not yet ready to take the bread and the wine. And I place my hands lightly on their head and pray a prayer of blessing over them. Some times I will use the ancient prayer of Aaron, the High Priest of Israel –
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Sometimes, I might say word of blessing that I know will speak to their immediate situation – maybe for healing, for guidance, for a particular need.
But as I reflect on this part of my experience as a minister God’s church, I know that this privilege is not one that is set aside for a special group – for the ordained minister or those with some special power. Why should God’s blessing be contained within the confines of gathered worship ? Is a church building the only place to receive the peace, mercy and deliverance that come from God ? It might be reassuring to be in such a setting, receiving God’s blessing, but we must never restrict God’s blessing to such ‘Liturgical niceties.’ * The gift to bless another is a gift for us all to give and to receive.
We may simply say ‘God bless’ as we say goodbye to a friend, or ‘bless you,’ as we are aware of a need of another.
Sometimes we may use the words too easily, without much thought, but the faith of Israel teaches us that these words of blessing have power. So we use them prayerfully.
I have a prayer that I use most Fridays:
God of earth, sea, and sky;
God of bread, wine, and story;
God of wind, fire, and water;
God who shaped us,
God who remade us,
God who fills us.
Take our lives, body, heart and soul –
make us one with you and with each other.
Give us your word on our lips,
and your blessing in our hands,
that the world may see and know,
and give you glory.
May God bless you, and those whom you love and pray for; and may you be given words of blessing to give to someone this day.
* A phrase from Walter Brueggemann that I must acknowledge !