The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26
We end virtually every communion service, and many of our worship services, with this benediction from the Book of Numbers. I often pray these words with patients in the hospital. When we hear the phrase, “the Lord make his face to shine upon you” from this passage, we might not realize why this desire was so meaningful to ancient people like the people of Israel. Most of us really don’t realize just how dark this world can become at night, and we might not understand how frightening the dark was to people in history.
Light is an important part of our world, and much of our world today is affected by light pollution. Most of our cities are so well-illuminated, even on a moonless night, that the upward shining light has been known to disorient migrating flocks of birds. Many of our houses are well-lit, day and night. Even without any house lights on, many of our homes and neighborhoods can only get so dark at night, given the presence of streetlights and other forms of light around us.
Yet, many years ago, the Hebrew people knew how dark it can get when there was nothing shining in the sky. The darkness can be scary. A desire to have God’s face “shine” on God’s people was in part a desire never to feel afraid, never to feel alone, never to feel lost in the deep darkness that descends on this world every night and in which all of us spend half of our lives. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” the prophet Isaiah famously wrote. When we remember how the people of Israel knew what it was like to live in frightening darkness in the first place, we can understand why the light of God’s face was such good news.
The world is still dark in many places, and we need the love of Jesus, the light of the world, each day. May the Lord’s face continue to shine upon us, and may we resolve to live as light in a world so full of darkness, now and always.
Peace to you,
The Rev. John G. Rights