"And He lifted up His hands and blessed them." (Luke 24:50)
When worship is ended, it is important to realize that we do not go out into the world on our own, but in the strength and with the gracious promises of the same God who called us to worship and who has spoken to us by his word. This promise of grace is called "the benediction" (which comes from the Latin word "to bless"). The benediction, like the salutation, is the blessing of Christ on his gathered people. It is spoken by a minister who officially represents the ascended and reigning Lord Jesus.
In the Old Testament period, the priests were commanded by God to give such a blessing to the people: "This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them: '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 upon you, and give you peace.' So they shall put My name on the children of Israel, and I will bless them" (Num. 6:23-27).
At the conclusion of our Lord's earthly ministry, he fulfilled this priestly role by lifting up his hands and blessing his disciples (Luke 24:50) before his ascension into heaven. This communicated to the nucleus of his church that he would be with them in blessing, even though he would be absent from them in bodily form. The benediction meant that he was with them as they faced the world with the ministry of the gospel.
In a similar way, at the conclusion of the New Testament letters written to churches, the apostles usually give a benediction, such as: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (1 Cor. 16:23). Keep in mind that these letters were read to churches before the Christian ministry was the fixed institution that it would become after the foundational work of the apostles. Their benedictions became patterns that would be followed in the church in every age. As we leave our gathering in the presence of Christ to face the world and to be witnesses in it, we go forth with the words of Christ's blessing.
Because the benediction is a promise and not a prayer, it is most fitting to look up and receive it as you would any other gift. How wonderful it is to receive the Lord's blessing as you depart from worship and go into a watching world!
The author is pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Franklin Square, New York. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted from New Horizons, September 2008. First article in series. Index.