Peace! The last word of the Benediction sends us out into the world with the privilege of sharing his peace.
Glenn L. Schwanke
The service is almost over. In a moment, your pastor will raise his hands for the Benediction. The words he will speak are the same as those the Lord first instructed the high priest Aaron and his sons to use as a blessing for the Israelites some 3,500 years ago! Well not exactly. Back then, those words were spoken in Hebrew, but they carry just as much meaning and power when we hear them in English today.
“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and + give you peace” (Christian Worship p. 37).
Think of it! We’re sent out those church doors and back into our everyday lives with the threefold blessing of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
A powerful reminder
But maybe we haven’t thought much about the Benediction lately. Maybe, because we’ve heard these words so many times over the years, we’ve allowed them to become little more than the obligatory “Amen” that signals the end of our worship. And if the service is running a smidgeon long—because of the pastor’s seven-part sermon—maybe we even sneak a peek at our watch, as we worry, “I hope I can still make the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffet at Bubba’s, because it only goes ‘til 1 p.m.”
Well, maybe Bubba’s will keep the buffet open a little late for us. And if our pastor actually did preach a seven-part sermon, I pray every word was anchored firmly in God’s Word and seasoned liberally with God’s grace. Because then our pastor’s message—as well as the Scripture readings for the day, the prayers, the hymns, the choral anthems, and the liturgical responses—have all prepared us for this mountain-top moment—the Aaronic Benediction!
That Benediction is so much more than an “Amen” that punctuates our worship. It’s so much more than having the Lord, like a kindly grandpa, wave farewell from the porch of heaven as we wave back, jump in our car, and head home. Our God explained exactly what was important about this blessing: “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:27 English Standard Version [ESV]).
What? The Benediction is a powerful reminder of the new names we first received when, through water and the Word, God’s Spirit washed away the filth of our sin and instead gave us pure, clean clothes as we “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27 ESV). Then “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV). Then we were declared “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ESV). Through Baptism, our Lord adopted us as his own.
The Benediction reminds us of that miracle of grace. It reassures us that we leave God’s house with the promise our Lord once shared through his prophet Isaiah. “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ ” (Isaiah 43:1 ESV). We don’t need to face Monday alone, empty, and afraid. We don’t need to be consumed with worry over whether the next mass shooting will be in our town, or God forbid, even our church. For with the Benediction, our Lord has served notice to the devil himself: “This one is mine! Marked with the blood of Christ. Hands off!”
This is the lasting comfort that is ours, when our pastor raises his hands for the Benediction and, once again, our Lord puts his name on us!
A solemn privilege
But it’s not just for our comfort, is it? The Benediction also brings with it a solemn privilege. After all, we’re carrying God’s name out into the world. But will we act like it? Will we be the “salt” that Jesus called us to be in his Sermon on the Mount? (Matthew 5:13)
To help us remember the name we bear and the salting we’ve received, in some of our worship services, just before the pastor raises his hands in blessing, he speaks the following words: “Brothers and sisters, go in peace.” That sentence is nothing but the sweetest gospel. For you and I have true, lasting peace. It is the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that no one in this world can earn and no amount of money can buy. It’s peace with God!
Then, “serve the LORD with gladness.” Those words from Psalm 100 remind us why our Lord has given us a pulse for yet another day in this world. We do not live for ourselves, but for the one who bought and paid for us (cf. Romans 12:1; Romans 14:8).
But wait a minute! Didn’t we skip something? “Live in harmony with one another.” That’s the niggling sentence that sometimes catches us and trips us up. Did you know that’s a Bible verse too? It’s Romans 12:16. It was Paul who gave us this inspired command.
But what exactly does it mean? Is “harmony” to be understood the way our society
currently defines it? “Your spiritual truth works for you. My spiritual truth works for me. I’ll accept your truth, but you’ll also need to accept mine, because there is no absolute truth.” That can hardly be what our Lord had in mind, because he also moved Paul to write, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5 ESV).
“Live in harmony with one another.” Does that mean if your sister or brother in the faith is walking down a dangerous path of sin, that you won’t get involved? That you’ll let sleeping dogs lie? If that’s what these words mean, then why did Jesus bother to give us the guidance of Matthew chapter 18?
Perhaps if we take a closer look at the rest of this verse, we’ll understand the words “live in harmony” better. Paul continues, “Do not be arrogant, but associate with the humble. Do not think too highly of yourselves” (Romans 12:16 Evangelical Heritage Version).
Now do we get it? By grace, we’re all members of God’s family, but the Lord definitely doesn’t want us to act like squabbling siblings who can’t stand one another. He doesn’t want cliques in the church. He doesn’t want us to look down our aquiline noses at fellow Christians who don’t participate as much as we do or give as much as we do. Such snobbery is little more than stealth self-righteousness. It will undercut our witness. It will dilute our saltiness.
But when we “live in harmony with one another,” then we’re carrying God’s name in a way that brings him glory. And that is what it means to be salt.
Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.
This is the eighth article in a 12-part series about Christian love in action and how we can be salt in this world.
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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018
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