Last week we learned that benedictions are not prayers or a churchy way to say, “See ya!” Benedictions are blessing pronouncements that are designed to send us on God’s mission. Regrettably, the benediction is excluded in many churches today. Whatever the reason, it is unfortunate. Giving a benediction at the end of worship is an old tradition in the Bible and one of the high points of the worship service.
“I love this moment in worship,” says Hilary Ritchie, Minister for Worship and the Arts at Hope Church. “Almost all of my planning is working towards this moment of sending. Because we’ve communed with God and each other, we can boldly face the world and live as God’s people for another week. Gathered worship is so important because it roots us in our identities as God’s people and equips us to go out and live our everyday lives of worship day by day.”
Some of you are wired to see silver linings no matter how awful the situation. “It could be worse,” you say. Others of you require a stress-free, cloudless sky, and a certified Vikings win to be filled with hope (yes, Aaron Rodgers is a hope killer in MN).
What about the apostle Paul? His life was one continuous hardship. He was whipped five times, beaten with rods three times, shipwrecked, threatened by thugs, deprived of sleep, food, and warm clothing (2 Cor 11:24-27). And yet he pronounced this benediction: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
So, what is the meaning of this blessing pronouncement at the end of our worship services?
1) Remember, this is not a prayerful positive spin on life. God is declaring: “I am Hope.” Whoa. He is Hope itself! God puts a capital “H” in Hope.
2) Hope (God) is not static. Hope fills. Trust in infinite, boundless Hope and He’ll see to it that we’re filled with “all joy and peace.” Hope without a capital “H” can’t do that. Little “h” hope only sets us up for a big drain.
3) This is benediction is not a piddly “Ta-ta, see you next Sunday.” Notice the “so that” Holy Spirit power-packed sendoff. “So that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” “The sending is a time,” says Constance Cherry, “when God blesses us to bless the world in Christ’s name, and commissions us to live in a particular way as a result of having heard the Word as a community” (The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services).
Benedictions are blessings with a purpose. The God of hope fills us so that hope will abound and spread to the people we encounter throughout the week.
And all God’s people said, “Amen. Alleluia.”