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Awkward Blessings

When Tom Long taught at Columbia Theological Seminary he watched students leading worship and observed they did well until it came time for them to speak a blessing. Then they become awkward. The benediction, Long says, "is one of the few places in the Protestant liturgy where the worship leader has to put the body into what is done in liturgy. It's hard to know how to hold the hands, and it's hard to know how to position the body. It's awkward and embarrassing."

Reflecting on his students' awkwardness at blessing, Long decided it had a great deal more to it than just how to stand and hold your hands and getting the words right. "I suspect there is a deeper reason why we are embarrassed about the benediction," says Long. "I suspect that we are embarrassed by the benediction for the same reason that we are embarrassed by ministry in general. Because we ought to be. We are embarrassed by the benediction, and we are embarrassed by ministry in general because in the benediction and in ministry we are called upon to give the people what we do not have to give." (Thomas G. Long, Sermon on Numbers 6:22, Columbia Theological Seminary Chapel, July 15, 1983.)

Isn't it so? Isn't our awkwardness at speaking words of blessing to oe another a reflection of our embarrassment at trying to give each other something we want so badly 4 to give but which we do not really have to give? I mean, really now! "The Lord be with you" - as if with a handful of words I could package up God and hand over to you the power that shaped the stars and sun. "God bless you," we say, but we wonder. We would bless you if we were God, but we are not God; and we wonder what stands behind such words, and we wonder if such words matter at all.

- Patrick Wilson, writing in Pulpit Digest, November/December 1999, p. 61.