‘You’re in trouble,’ he said. ‘You must bless me.’ And he took my hand and raised it quickly to his brow. Then he was gone. There was certainly a strong wind blowing, but for the first time I saw he hadn’t straightened his tall figure: he walked bowed.
Each Sunday, after our church has heard the Gospel and sung our hymns and conversed around a text, after we have passed the peace with kisses, handshakes and hugs, after we have confessed ours sins and received Jesus’ forgiveness, after we have gathered as hungry people around the Table, received our fill and then prayed our prayers of thanksgiving and intercession — after all these movements telling and enacting God’s story – we prepare to leave our space where we have been together. But we are not ready to leave just yet.
This has come to be one of the moments I most cherish as a pastor. In this holy space, I invite the people to cup their hands, in a Hebrew posture of receiving. Then, with all the authority I can muster, I speak a word of blessing over all who are gathered, our community of sinners and saints.
A blessing is a direct word. It is spoken to a person. I grab as many eyes as I can. A blessing, done right, will not allow the pastor to live in the abstract. I pray the blessing over a mom who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep for ages. I’m blessing the dad who’s getting the screws turned on him at work. I’m blessing the student who cuts herself. I’m blessing the guy who’s slept through our entire worship, the same way he’s sleeping through his life. I’m blessing the couple about to split up and the guy who thinks God’s a bunch of hooey.
But it’s not really my blessing. I am standing there, simply offering Gospel words. I’m reminding my people who they are and how loved they are – and I’m reminding them of their God and of the true story their God is writing for them. I’m blessing my people because I believe with all my heart that God loves them – and because I love them.
Some Sundays labor on, the sermon barely registering or my emotions flat. Some days have all the life of an old, whipped hound. I wish it weren’t so, but so be it. Still, I’ve been granted the sacred opportunity to bless. I raise my hands and raise my voice. People of God, I begin. And then I tell them who they are, and as I tell them, I tell myself. God knows I need a blessing.