Angel Weeping
Cathedral of the Assumption
Varna, Bulgaria

I read this line the other day in a quote from St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s tremendous work, “On Loving God”.  The last sentence of the quote says this…

“The earth under the ancient curse brought forth thorns and thistles; but now the Church beholds it laughing with flowers and restored by the grace of a new benediction. “

I’m not sure why, but this line has burned a hole in my heart ever since I read it, particularly the last bit, “restored by the grace of a new benediction”.  Given that I’ve been reading and writing about liturgy a good deal lately, and in particular, the benediction, this little phrase has become an inescapable thought.  It is absolutely haunting me, convicting me, reminding me of who I am as a created being, a fallen man, and a redeemed, adopted child of the living God.

I don’t know exactly what St. Bernard was thinking when he wrote this gem of a line, but what keeps replaying in my own mind are the final words of Christ on the cross…

“It is finished.”

The benediction, as a portion of liturgy, is the closing remark; a blessing to the hearer, followed by a challenge to live a life of mission.  My all-time favorite benediction can be found in scripture:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  (Colossians 3:15-17)

There’s a clear blessing: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you”.  There’s also a mission:  “Teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…be thankful…live as though you are infinitely impressed with God, like your toil is for Him rather than your checking account, your family, your employer, your clients, or the agency that pays your salary.

“It is finished” was Christ’s benediction, the last words spoken by the God-Man.  These words are not so easily interpreted.  I believe, though, that these words are the new benediction to which Bernard was referring.

“It is finished” means this to me…

– I am a sinner, but I am no longer a slave to my sin.  My sin might ruin my day, or even large chunks of my life, but it will not separate me from God.

– The last breath of Christ wasn’t a breath drawn in, but a whisper spoken forth.  When He breathed out, the Holy Spirit was sent to comfort me when I’m mourning; to guide me when I’m lost;  to convict me when I’m wrong; and to change my heart from stone to something pliable;  something that can be conformed into something so high and lofty that it is certainly something that I am most certainly not under my own power…a child of God.

– I was worth Jesus’ first cry in the manger and the last drop of blood that poured from His body on the cross.  I was worth that to God.  That is unfathomable to me.  I’ve seen creation that I would definitely consider to be of more value than I would consider myself to be.  Somehow, though, God looks at me as something of infinite worth, some buried treasure that is worth selling all He has just so he can possess it;  a pearl of great price that is worth sacrificing everything for; a prize catch that is worth casting for time and time again, with patience unimaginable.  I was worth the beating and the spit, the taunts of the crowd, the nails piercing His flesh of His hands and feet, the crown of thorns pushed into His brow, the spear driven into His side, and the woeful tears of a mother mourning a Son that she watches die an agonizing and excruciating death.  I scream inside of me, “God, no!  I can’t be worth that!  Please don’t tell me all that was for me!”  I beg God that it wouldn’t be me that He thought was worth that kind of pain and price.  I’ve done nothing to merit that kind of consideration.  That God replies with hot tears of pain and joy mingling on his ancient, weathered, perfect face, whispering in nurture and compassion, “Hush now, child.  It was for you.  Stop your fretting.  I am well pleased with you.  You’re my pride and joy.”

So that is the gift of this new, “It is finished” benediction.  If that’s the gift, then what is the mission that has been spoken into my life?  I’m not sure, but for now, I’ll try these things…

– I’ll go to bed tonight and kiss my wife, and tell her I love her, because my Abba loves me.  But first, I’ll straighten the living room, even though it’s not necessary.  I know it will please her, and I know that I should care for the shelter that God is housing us in, so I’ll clean up, and not complain about it.

– I’ll wake in the morning and be patient with my children as we prepare for the day at hand, because my Father is patient with me.  I’ll sing songs with them on the way to the sitter, even though my heart may not feel like singing for 15 non-stop minutes.  I’ll tell them I love them over and over, and I’ll sing “Jesus Loves Me” to them every morning, until I’m utterly convinced that they believe the song was written for and about them.

– I’ll do my best to have compassion on the meth addicted, child abusing parents I work with, because the new benediction wasn’t just spoken to me…It was spoken to them, as well.  As my hands are outstretched to receive the gift, so are theirs.  I will care for their children when they can’t find it within themselves to love them the way a parent should love them, the way  Our Father loves us.  I’ll love them and protect them, because my Father loves and protects me.

– I’ll be sure, in the midst of my busy day, to take a moment to whisper a word of love to Jesus, the same way He whispers softly to me.

My Abba Father, My Creator,

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,  My Passion and Desire,

Holy Spirit, My Comfort and Protection,

I am well pleased with You.

I love You.