If you asked me which part of the worship service on the Lord’s Day is my favorite, I would have to confess myself torn between three choices: the preaching of the Word, the music and singing of hymns, and the closing benediction or prayer. I suppose the reasons for the first two are obvious.
Why the benediction?
I remember the days when I stood for the benediction at the end of the sermon and my thoughts would immediately fly to what I needed to do in preparation for leaving church. The minister’s words would pass over me like static from a radio as I thought of kids to corral, lunch to prepare, and the afternoon ahead.
I realize too the solemn intoning of the benediction may sound a dismissal, a bell at the close of school or the beginning of a horse race as people stream out into their cars and on to the their favorite diner.
But the benediction is meant to be so much more: a final parting gift is given, one that is priceless and unmatched, the sweet breath of the heavens, each word of the minister invoking a blessing from God that descends as in a shower of hallelujahs from the unseen and unheard hosts surrounding the throne of grace.
At our church, every Lord’s Day the benediction is the same, the words taken from 2 Cor. 13:14, but our joy at receiving them resonates through the body of Christ— “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, bless and keep you, rest, abide, and remain in you, now and forevermore.”
The weight of the riches abounding in those simple words keeps heads bowed in humility as we receive it, and afterwards, raised to see the light in our neighbor’s eyes, an exultation of “Oh, how blessed, how blessed we are! Oh, how gracious is the Lord our God! What have we to fear in the week ahead? The Lord our God is here with us and goes with us!”
For the benediction contains not only the strengthening promise of our Lord Jesus Christ before his ascension: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20); but also the sweet cadence of Moses’s blessing, Psalm 90: 18—“Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us;” and the joyful knowledge that with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we have in that hour tasted the sweetness of God’s word and found them to be sweeter than honey to our taste (Psalm 119: 103).
The benediction recalls to our mind our Lord Jesus’ words to one of his disciples who asked, “’Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:22-23).
Is this not a sweet parting gift to receive at the close of worship on the Lord’s Day? A reminder of God’s love for us and more. A reminder that the Trinitarian fellowship of the LORD our God is ours forever, for our God has made his home in us!
So let’s shout and sing with exultation if only in our hearts when we hear the closing benediction pronounced by our minister, and receive it with eagerness and humility like manna from heaven to sustain us in our wilderness journey through the week— “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, bless and keep you, rest, abide, and remain in you, now and forevermore.”