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To Remember Who You Are

To Remember Who You Are
Image: Cyndi Monaghan / Getty´╗┐

My Dear Shepherds,

Ted and Margaret were grandparents in our church. One grandson was given the middle name, Ziga, reflecting his mother’s Rwandan heritage. The name means “Remember Who You Are.” In some families parents say the same thing when a teenager heads out for an evening with friends—“Remember who you are.” That’s what a benediction says to God’s people.

God’s blessing script entrusted to Aaron did not come heavy with admonitions. Instead, his words are weighty with treasures inviting our trust: “The LORD bless you and keep you … make his face shine upon you … be gracious to you … turn his face toward you, and give you peace.” Eventually, the New Testament blessings wrapped those promises in Christ, sprinkled with his blood, filled with his breath, and carried forward under the New Covenant.

The “good words” that close the various New Testament Epistles bestowed God’s grace, love, hope, and peace through Christ. Several add that these blessings enable believers “to live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 15:5-6), to “be kept blameless” (1 Thess. 5:23-24), to “comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess. 2:16-17), and to “equip you with everything good that you may do his will” (Heb. 13:20-21). They are blessing scripts for us. Repetition makes hearts stronger.

Giving God’s blessing, as we do in benedictions, is to step into a holy mystery, something akin to a sacrament, bestowing God’s grace. I can’t remember my first benediction, but I do recall feeling like I was out of my league. The act of raising my hands over the people seemed a little ostentatious. But that is what Aaron himself did, according to Leviticus 9:22.

In time, I came to love this privilege. I’m puzzled why some pastors do not do this. Perhaps some think of it as a fusty liturgical relic, anesthetized by misuse, or too foreign-sounding to unchurched Harry or Mary. But, of course, it is foreign. That’s the point. People won’t hear anything like this anywhere else. It is the language of God!

Some parents speak the Aaronic blessing over their children every night. One friend told me that he wants John Rutter’s choral arrangement of, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” by the Cambridge Singers played at his funeral. Another brother told me how he is often called to bless people’s homes.

Carry God’s blessing wherever you go, like a gift card in your wallet. You never know when the opportunity will arise. I’ve God-blessed at graduations, weddings, birthdays, retirement parties, hospital bedsides, and farewells. I write benediction letters. At our farewells from two churches, our congregations sang God’s blessing over us. What goes around comes around.

As COVID took grip upon us in March 2020 the Lord gave us “The Blessing” which spread through virtual choirs all over the world, a treasure when so many of our churches could not meet in person.

Long ago I took to singing benedictions. I have half a dozen of them. For example, I frequently use a shortened, acapella version of Michael Card’s “Barocha” (from Num. 6) and the first verse of his “Grace Be with You All,” based on Hebrews 13:20-21. My pastor friend, Andy League, took to singing benedictions in his small church in Minnesota. He wrote, “This morning, I saw one of our seniors standing there with his hands out, eyes closed, and I could literally see him letting the blessing of God wash over him. It was so powerful! It was Zephaniah 3:17 in our building. God was singing over him His blessing.”

Be ye glad!

Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.

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