I'm working on a study of Numbers 6:22-27 for a short lecture next Tuesday. This is the Aaronic benediction (The Lord bless you and keep you...), the first benediction I ever pronounced. It was the night of my ordination and boy did I practice that benediction a few dozen times; during one practice session, I messed up and said to myself, "The Lord make her face to shine upon you." Oops.
Anyhow, this is a marvelous passage of Scripture. Rarely have I been led by the Spirit into such worship as I have in this passage. This, I think, is the theme of the passage: God radically identifies with (puts His name on) His undeserving covenant people, promising grace (shining His face), forgiveness (lifting His face), freedom from shame and true wholeness (peace), a home in heaven (bless) and protection along the way (keep).
Part of the context of this blessing is in Leviticus 9:22, "Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them." Leviticus 9 is the accounting of God directing and then receiving Aaron's burnt offering on his own behalf and the behalf of the people, for the express purpose of atonement. Think about it: Aaron turning and raising his hands and blessing the people is a powerful, visible statement: God has accepted our sacrifice! He has forgiven you! He loves you and has made the way straight for you to be His people! Do not doubt, do not dwell on your sins for God has done it: He has provided the ram for the sacrifice and His wrath has been turned away, leaving only His great mercy for you!
So at the end of worship, when the pastor pronounces the benediction, it should be a powerful reminder for us: of completed salvation in Christ, of freedom from shame, of our home in heaven and our refuge until we get there, of the fact that this is all the doing of a great and merciful God. Fact is, ever since God tied our boat to His, He has considered the good of His people to be part and parcel with His glory; so just as much as God loves His glory, that is how much He loves to bless His people.
Although the mind of the Creator is far beyond our comprehension, I even began to wonder if the benediction might be God's favorite part of worship...