My sermon text this past Sunday was the gospel reading from the Lectionary: Matthew 5:1-12, a.k.a. The Beatitudes. As I read and studied this passage last week, Jesus’ familiar words struck me in a new way.
Where previously I had read judgement for all of the ways I fall short–of poverty of spirit, of meekness, of mercy, of purity, of being a peacemaker—this time I heard the blessing. “Blessed are . . . blessed are . . . blessed are . . . blessed are.” I heard this blessing deeply, and that blessing is what I wanted to share with my congregation on Sunday.
So when the children came forward for children’s time, I handed each of them a glass “gem.” We briefly discussed what a blessing is—something special and beautiful, like the gem. “This morning,” I said, “you will each receive a blessing. And you can keep your gem as a reminder that you are blessed.”
I was delighted, and a bit taken aback, that this was probably the largest group of children that had ever gathered with me at the front of the church. They ranged in age from 2 to 10. Some of those children I had been praying for since before they were born. One little girl I had met that morning.
There were a few quiet kids, some talkative kids, some rowdy kids. Thirteen beautiful, fidgety kids looking up at me as I explained, “This may take a little while. Just be patient and wait for your turn.”
And I placed my hand on the first child’s golden hair and looked into her eyes: “Sarah, may God bless you—now and always. Know that God loves you very much.”
I moved around the circle, placing my hand on each child, looking into their eyes, speaking their names.
About halfway around the circle I came to John, a kindergartner who is often loud and nearly always moving. He sat still, with his head down. I couldn’t see his face. I thought he was bored, or maybe embarrassed. But then he lifted his head ever so slightly and looked at me with his magnificent brown eyes. He wasn’t bored. He wasn’t embarrassed. He was expectant. He was ready to receive his blessing.
“John, may God’s blessing be with you. Know that you are deeply loved by God.”
I continued to move around the circle, slowly and quietly speaking words of blessing to each child. I spoke these blessings into a holy silence, a silence I did not know was possible in the midst of over a dozen children. The energy these children so often use to make noise and move around was instead being used to wait for, receive, and absorb their blessings.
This sacred energy hovered with us as I blessed the last, the youngest, of the children. And as the children were dismissed, I looked out at the adults in the congregation. They, too, were in a state of holy calm that I’m not sure I have ever seen before. The love that they felt for those children was a tangible presence.
I just stood there for awhile: watching the children, gazing at the adults, basking in the sacred moment. Finally I smiled. And I said, “That, my friends, is worth four years of seminary training.”