Word of the Week

Worship and a Hug

Do we truly understand how much God loves us and wants to bless us?

Today in worship we talked how BLESSING is one of the themes found in Matthew's Beatitudes-- that as Jesus spoke these words of "Blessed are . . ." he was seeking to tell this followers exactly how he already felt about them. Jesus spoke to the disciples not as those whom he was commanding to act a certain way, but as a loving teacher to a group of people he cared deeply for.

We also talked about how hard it is for us to receive Jesus' blessing on us because we want to assume it comes with conditions that sound like "you must do this first." Could Jesus possibly love us even if we don't come to him in perfection yet?

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, author and professor, tells the following story about how hard it is for all of us to receive blessing but also how each of us hungers for it more than we realize.

While living in the L'Arche community for mentally and physically challenged adults called Daybreak in Toronto, Canada as a resident chaplain, he found himself in the following  conversation with a patient there while going about his daily chores:

A woman named Janet came up to Henri and asked for a blessing. In response, he remembers walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead.

But, she said, "Henri, it doesn't work. No, that is not what I meant."

Henri notes that was embarrassed and said, "I gave you a blessing." She said, "No, I want to be blessed." He kept thinking, "What does she mean?"

[Later on] there was a worship service. After the service Henri said, "Janet wants a blessing." He had an alb on and a long robe with long sleeves. Janet walked up to Henri and said, "I want to be blessed." She put her head against my chest and he spontaneously put my arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, "Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are."

She looked at Henri and said, "Yes, yes, yes, I know. I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her. She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed. She went back to her place and immediately other people said, "I want that kind of blessing, too."

Henri went on to recount, "Then, countless people kept walking up to me and I suddenly found myself embracing people. I remember that after that, a man in our community who assists the handicapped, a strong guy, a football player, said, 'Henri, can I have a blessing, too?' I remember our standing there and I put my hand on his shoulder and said: "you are blessed. You are a good person. God loves you. We love you. You are important. Can you claim that and live as the blessed one?"

And this process, according to Henri, went on and on for days as members of the community heard that he gave out blessings."[i]

We all need blessing more than we sometimes know.

So, after I shared this story in my sermon and we had a service of communion with one another, I offered the congregation a blessing if they wanted it. Several deacons assisted in this by standing to the side of the room with hands open wide to give hugs and the blessing of "Jesus loves you." Several folks told me after the service how powerful it was for them to leave worship with the experience of having a blessing instead of just hearing about one for others. I think we might just need to engage in this spiritual practice of hugging more often.

Worship with a hug . . . sometimes it is the smallest gestures that can be so powerful.