Next Sunday, when asked to stand for the benediction, try not to reach for your coat or purse or phone. Why?
The Reformers understood the benediction as a covenant blessing pronouncement meant to enrich the lives of God’s people from one generation to the next. Benedictions declare a reality in Christ to be lived throughout the week. You don’t want to miss that!
We’ll often hear a benediction begin with the word, “may” (e.g., “May the Lord be with you”). But it is more than wishful thinking. It “is not just a matter of being hopeful that God will do something for someone else—it is much more. There is faith employed in a spoken benediction; it is a reminder that one can rightfully expect God to act favorably upon all who are his children, a way of remembering that the God who has benefited his chosen people in the past will do the same today” (Constance Cherry).
So, what should we do at the end of the service next Sunday if we hear, “May he [the Lord] so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thess 3:13, NRSV). What is the meaning of this blessing pronouncement?
1) “May he [the Lord] so strengthen your hearts in holiness.” What is God declaring? “I add resistance training to your workout routine—that is, resistance against the ‘ordinary way’ of doing things.” He’ll help us choose mercy over judging and respond to difficult people with compassion. We’ll find that holiness makes our heart stronger.
2) Next comes the “so that” of the benediction. “That you may be blameless before our God and Father.” Blamelessness does not mean sinlessness; it means “innocent in dealing with others.” It’s exactly what God told Abraham: “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). If we walk before him (in his presence), we’ll have a greater awareness of the needs of those around us.
3) Then notice the end of this benediction: “At the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” This is not some add-on. Christ intends to come back, accompanied by everyone that has stood to receive these same benedictions! The benediction sends us out into the world to bear witness to the Lord of resurrection and the Age to Come.
And all God’s people said, “Amen. Alleluia.”