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To speak a blessing

Retired pastor offers up a vision and an invitation

by the Rev. Ken Rummer for Presbyterians Today | Special to Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Ken Rummer

LOUISVILLE — The walking path leads me along the edge of a wooded draw. Glancing down through the shadows of the trees, I notice a bright flash of light. With a turn-aside and a second look, I see that the creek has managed to pull the sun out of the sky, all the way down to the lowest place in the woods. From the water there, the sun blazes up at me.

I think blessing-speaking is like that. To speak a blessing is to be the creek, drawing down God’s light, even into low places, and reflecting it, even into shadows.

The Lord bless you and keep you

Years ago, at the end of the service that ordained me as a Minister of Word and Sacrament for the Presbyterians, I was given the opportunity to do the benediction. Newly robed and stoled, my first act of ordained ministry was to offer a blessing.

Over the course of the next four decades, raising my hands over the gathered congregation and pronouncing the benediction became one of my favorite parts of the Sunday service, and Numbers 6:24-26 became one of my favorite benedictions. It’s the one that begins, “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

I don’t remember hearing that benediction from the pastors I had growing up, but our church choir often sang an arrangement of it at the end of the service. When I got old enough to sing with them, I sang it, too. Even the overlapping and interlocking “Amens!” at the end.

As a pastor, my regular use of the Numbers benediction grew out of a Presbyterian worship resource, “The Service For the Lord’s Day,” that came out in 1984. The editors elevated “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” to the second option for an end-of-service blessing, noting Calvin’s use of this benediction in his liturgy of 1542.

Updated language clarified the meaning behind the traditional lifted countenances and faces caused to shine:

The Lord bless you and keep you.

The Lord be kind and gracious to you.

The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.

It was this version that I often used as a pastor at the close of worship, though memory sometimes tripped me up by suggesting a phrase from the older wording.

The Lord be kind and gracious to you

A younger congregant and fan of the Star Wars movies once told me that he liked the part of the service when I held up my hands and the lightning shot out of my fingers. I’m not crazy about being compared to an evil emperor, but the young man may have been on to something.

As I’ve come to understand it, the benediction isn’t just words about a blessing. The words actually convey the blessing. The language is performative. There is actual blessing taking place. Hence, the lightning.

In Numbers, the job of speaking the blessing is given to Aaron the priest, but I haven’t wanted to limit the benedicting to pastors.

One Pentecost Sunday, I passed out red crepe paper stoles to the children and had them join me at the front. We held up our hands and offered the benediction together.

Other times I invited the whole congregation to turn toward the center aisle and raise their arms and offer the blessing to each other.

I suggested such an “all-bless” at the end of a recent video conference meeting for a presbytery committee I moderate. The power of that blessing, even across miles and through screens, surprised me.

The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace

So let me invite you to join me in speaking a blessing or two.

It’s a way to be the creek, reflecting God’s light. It’s a way to bless others, and even, as Jesus taught, our enemies (Luke 6:28).

And if we need some good words to use, Numbers 6:24-26 stands ready to help. “The Lord bless you and keep you … ”

One caution. When you undertake to speak such a blessing, you might want to stand back just a bit.

On account of the lightning.

Ken Rummer writes about life and faith from the Middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. His previous posts are available at

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