Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Blessing and Expectation: Speaking to the Soul, December 6, 2017

For the last several months, I’ve been collecting blessings to use at the conclusion of the liturgy. As a new priest, this is one of those things that wasn’t really on my radar in the last crush of seminary. And I’ve found some lovely ones, from a variety of traditions. Some come from scripture, like the familiar priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, which remains fresh to me even though I’ve probably heard it a thousand times, helping us to envision the joy of standing before the loving face of God, looking upon us as a parent tenderly drinks in the sight of their child:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Amen

And then there was this one, which I had heard put to music by the great choral composer John Rutter. It reminds us that each Sunday, as our worship concludes, we receive a blessing and a benediction to send us out into the world empowered to do what we can to walk in the Way of Christ and embody His presence in the world:
Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak;
help the afflicted;
honour everyone;
love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen

And then I found this one, adapted from the old Sarum Rite from Salisbury Cathedral, which was developed starting in the 11th century:
May the Lord direct our hearts,
this day and for ever,
in the love of God
and in the patient waiting for Christ.
The Lord bless us
and preserve us from all evil
and bring us to everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In all of these benedictions, there is a sense of both anticipation and response through God’s protection and encouragement. There is a call to action and transformation, a reminder that we are called from despair into expectancy, and from fear and anxiety into trust and assurance, from uncertainty into a life of joy and meaning rooted in God’s love and grace. We are asked even in the heart of winter to prepare ourselves to be fertile fields for the gospel of Christ to come into new flower and fruitfulness, if we a re patient enough and trusting enough to allow God’s work in us to take root and grow. Prayers of benediction invite us to remember that we are the Body of Christ in the world today, and that we are also looking toward the time when that aim will be brought to fulfillment.

Praying and meditating on these benedictions reminded me of what a blessing Advent is for my own spiritual life. In both blessing and Advent, we are invited to live with the “is now/and yet to come” tension that is being revealed to us anew each moment if we are alert enough to pause and look. Christ has been, is now, and will be—all at the same time, Advent reminds us: the Jesus of history whom we remember being born over 2000 years ago as a humble baby in a lowly corner of the world; the Savior and Redeemer who lives in us still today and leads us toward the reign of God we celebrated on Christ the King Sunday; and the Christ Triumphant who will come again in glory, for whom we will await with longing even after the Christmas lights have been boxed up for another year. As God’s beloveds, we have been blessed, and will be blessed, and are called to then carry that blessing forth into our lives lived for others.

Embodying a benediction reminds us that we have cause for rejoicing, yes, and also a charge before us to translate that joy and redemption for the sake of each other and indeed for all creation. As I pondered these and other blessings, I became newly aware of the sense of hope and anticipation that permeates these and other beautiful benedictions—holding within our lives that “patient waiting for Christ” that is also such a vital part of the season of Advent we have just begun. These prayers have the same burgeoning joy and exultation that is infused in Mary’s Magnificat, another favorite scriptural selection popular in Advent devotions.

We are waiting, yet at the same time we are called to action. The season of Advent settles over us as the most beautiful of benedictions, by calling us to see ourselves through the loving eyes of God, and drawing us to embrace the vocation of living into that dream God has for each of us. As we lean into this season of watching, waiting, hoping, anticipating, may we lean anew into hearing and answering the call of love to restore our souls as we await the light of Christ to pierce the winter darkness and lead us into wisdom and renewal, devoting ourselves anew to a “now and will be” life sustained by the Lord of Life whom we look for in hope and joy.

(This was first published at the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on December 6, 2017)

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