Benediction: The Lord Bless You and Keep You

Given to Moses by the Lord, the Bible verses are these:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance [face] upon you, and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).
There is a richness of meaning in those few words. Since they are given by the Lord Himself (vs. 22), we conclude that it is the Lord’s desire to bestow blessings on His people. We do not need to beg for them, as though we have to somehow change God’s mind. He is ready and willing to bless those who come to Him in faith.

For one thing, the Lord will protect (“keep”) His children. And for Him to be “gracious” is to show His loving kindness, mercy, and divine favour toward us. The “peace” spoken of is more than a cessation of war. It involves a settled tranquility of life and general sense of well-being. The double reference to the face of God is poetic imagery meaning, “May the Lord be actively present in your life, and look upon you with favour.”

Peter Lutkin turned the words of Numbers into a melodious prayer. Though his composition has moving parts, with a bit of practice, a congregation can sing it effectively as a closing hymn. This writer also has heard beautiful choral renditions of it, concluding with an elaborate seven-fold “Amen.”

Following the Bible text quite closely, Peter Lutkin’s version says:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace; and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious;
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you. Amen.

Peter Christian Lutkin composed “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” in 1900, originally for four-part vocal harmony, without accompaniment, which is traditionally sung as a closing benediction in churches, and especially at the closing of a wedding, prayer response, or as a communion hymn. This music is more an anthem than a hymn and was originally called a “Farewell Anthem with Sevenfold Amen.” Without the original series of “Amens” the piece becomes more accessible to congregations. Apparently the opening section was sung by the choir followed by the congregation singing a simple “Amen” cadence. 

Peter Lutkin was born and educated in the American Midwest, although he also studied some in Europe. Orphaned at an early age, Lutkin was raised in Chicago and had his early musical training in the choir school of the St. James Episcopal Cathedral. He studied under prominent organ teachers in Chicago, continued his education in Europe (1881-1884), and earned a doctorate in music from Syracuse University in 1900. In Chicago he served as organist and choirmaster at St. Clements Episcopal Church (1884-1891) and St. James Cathedral (1891-1896) and taught music theory at the American Conservatory (1885-1895). 

Lutkin was one of the founders of the American Guild of Organists. He also established the Chicago North Shore Festivals and founded the Northwestern University School of Music, of which he was the first dean (1896-1920). At several different times Lutkin was president of the Music Teacher's National Association. A composer of organ and choral music, he served on the editorial committees for both the Methodist Hymnal (1905) and the Episcopal Hymnal (1918).

Lutkin was perhaps best known for organizing and leading the A Cappella Choir in 1906 at Northwestern, the first permanent organization of its kind in America, and many of his musical compositions were created for this group to perform. 

Peter Christian Lutkin’s choral benediction The Lord Bless You and Keep You has long been associated with Westminster Choir College.  This beloved work is sung at most important College events and concludes many choral concerts.  It has been sung at times of great joy and has brought comfort in the midst of sorrow.  In the College’s early days the campus community gathered on the Williamson Hall balcony and sang the Lutkin Benediction as the Westminster Choir left on tour. 

On May 14, 2010 - the day before the Westminster Choir College Commencement in the Princeton University Chapel - 80 Westminster Choir College students, conducted by Joe Miller, recorded Peter Christian Lutkin’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You.  The result is a musical message of peace and hope that, through today’s technology, can be shared with Westminster’s alumni and friends - and through them – with music lovers around the world.

Click on the links below to watch 

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