My favorite part of a church service is the Benediction. (And no, not because it means the service is over.) The Benediction is at once a charge and a reassurance. It tells me to go back into the world, a world that is scary and dangerous and sometimes mean- spirited. A world where bad things can happen and we often don’t get what we need or want. The Benediction tells me to gather up my courage and step out because the love of God covers me like the biggest and strongest of all umbrellas.
This is the most classic of all benedictions:
May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you. May the Lord be gracious unto you and give you peace.
Our church service often ends with some version of this Benediction, although sometimes our ministers will add their own spin, taking ideas from their sermon and expanding them into words of dismissal. As I stand in the choir loft after the closing hymn while these final words are bestowed upon the congregation, it’s as if a large, comforting hand has been placed over our collective heads. The idea of being “blessed and kept” under the gracious and shining favor of God is a balm to the soul.
One of the hardest things about being an adult (and an “older” adult at that) is the feeling that there’s no one left to protect you. If your parents are still living, they most likely need your protection and care, instead of the other way round. If you’re married, you might feel slightly less alone, because hopefully your partner has your back to some degree at least. But being a grown up means being ultimately responsible for yourself, and if you’re an über responsible person anyway, it’s a huge never-ending burden.
I guess that’s why I love the Benediction so much. For at least those few seconds, I’m reminded of the possibility that Someone is looking out for me, Someone will keep me from harm, will smile down upon me and give me peace.
One of my favorite musical settings of my favorite Benediction is this one, by the British composer John Rutter. If you need a moment of reassurance before you go out into the world today, close your eyes and listen to this.