Friday, May 29, 2015

Blessings, Benedictions and Baptists Learning Weal over Woe: Trinity Sunday 2015

        On some level, when churches go through their seasons of ministry and mission, as times and circumstances change and challenge within the congregation and in the community around them, the gathering of believers have the same opportunity as the early churches of the New Testament times. While churches are filled with people (which means the whole range of what it means to be human is on display, sometimes with gentleness and other times with ferocity), we are also gifted with the benediction Paul granted for Christians, then and now and yet to come.

        The last word of 2 Corinthians is a blessing: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

        What a great benediction! What a great “last word” from Paul, who spent much of the Corinthian correspondence dealing with more issues than most church consultants would want to handle!

       Despite the “last word” before the service ends and the “rest of your day” begins, benedictions are powerful. Sometimes, I find myself wondering what the best “last word” should be to end the service on the right note. Indeed, I may change from what I had planned to say as something (dare I say, the Spirit?) compels me to offer another word instead. The hope is to give, pronounce or impart the word that sends us out on a good note about God, our faith and the “rest of the week” we are about to enter into as we depart worship.

       The English word “benediction” itself does not come directly from Greek or Hebrew. Instead, the word is from the Latin “benedictio”, which morphed into our English word over the passage of time. “Benedictio” honors the biblical concept of blessing or sending forth on a good note, but I found the meaning of “benedictio” in Latin to be quite interesting. It means “a pronouncement of weal”.

        “Weal” is another word we do not use commonly. Hailing from the Middle English period, the word means “for the common good, or the benefit of all”. In other words, to pronounce weal is to grant a word of blessing that goes on and on, meaning that the intent of the blessing is to work equally its way out into the midst of the people. For the Corinthians, they knew woes, as they had afflicted one another with many. After slogging through the tangled knot of their issues (mountains and mole hills alike), Paul gives a good word that shapes Christian community down through the centuries, offering the Trinity’s blessings upon the faithful (yes, even those who would rather toss chairs than hold hands in fellowship!).

       I recall with gladness the experience I had with this benediction in worship while studying in England back in the Spring of 2001. Most British Baptists would end the service with gathering into a circle, joining hands together, and the minister would say, “Let us have the Baptist blessing”.  
       The words, of course, are not solely for Baptists, nor our own intellectual property. The words are from Paul, and somehow took on a liveliness that I missed when folks grabbed their coats and worried about the pot roast at home. The words from 2 Corinthians 13 were recited together, not just by rote or habit. People looked around the fellowship, making eye contact with one another, and together they offered the grace, love, and fellowship of the Trinity around the circle.

        Indeed, it was a pronouncement of weal to one another.

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