I’m not the biggest fan of Martin Luther. (I’ll spare you my rant for now.) As an unsurprising extension, I’m also not particularly a fan of the movie Luther which was made about his life. However, one scene in it affects me powerfully.
A teenage boy commits suicide. A dispute arises about where and how he should be buried. Luther’s heart focuses on the boy, on his sufferings and the terrible despair which had made death seem like the only possible recourse. Caught up in a spirit of mercy, he falls on the boy’s body and declares, “Te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.” (Essentially: “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”)
I remember feeling what a beautiful thing it would be to say those words to that boy. I get a similar feeling whenever I hear a benediction. My heart longs to say, “The blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you now and forever.” (I have a lot of benedictions memorized; I appreciate them all but figured, for the sake of expediency, to provide a representative sample.)
These are powerful and effective words. To be clear however, I don’t think that they’re magic words. A lot of the blessings and ceremonies of the Church can sound like magic on the surface, but Christianity and magic involve dramatically different realities. Magic is a means of trying to control one’s surroundings, of trying to conform those surroundings to one’s own will. The blessings that Christians speak and the sacramental language that we employ, those aren’t about control at all. They’re in declaration of and in submission to God, that his will might be realized.
When I talk about how my heart wants to bless people or how I want to forgive sins, I’m not saying that I want some sort of special power. Rather, I’m saying that my heart wants to align itself to God’s, which eternally wants to bless and forgive, so that he might use me for those purposes.
The joy (for me) of the words Christians use is to declare that truth, which is the effective reality behind them.