Finishing worship well is as important as beginning it that way. Just as a call to worship consecrates the time for worship, so a benediction allows the last word to be God’s blessing and exhortation to His people to continue worshiping as they depart.
There is biblical precedent for this. Almost all the epistles end with some kind of simple blessing. Moreover, scattered through the writings of the apostles are statements of lavish blessing or abundant grace that comes from God to His people. The New Testament authors are fond of blessing their recipients. This becomes even more significant when we consider that the epistles were typically read publicly to the gathered congregations. The local assemblies would have heard Paul, Peter, John, Jude or the writer of Hebrews wishing and praying God’s blessings upon them.
Perhaps our free worship tradition has robbed us of the joy and power of spoken blessings. No credibility is lent to the Word-Faith cult when we say so. The people of God have always imitated their Father in blessing and bestowing verbal blessings upon each other. What could be more appropriate than corporate worship concluding with God’s promise of enablement, protection, sanctification or presence?
A benediction is far more than a final nice word, or a last pleasantry. A benediction sends worshipers from that consecrated hour with God’s own promises to pardon, protect and be present. For a pastor or appointed spiritual leader to look his people in the eyes and bless them in God’s name with God’s Words is a particularly tender and poignant moment in the life of a local church. We ought not to underestimate the heartening and strengthening effect of hearing God’s promises of goodness to His people. I have seen in the faces of God’s people that no small comfort is derived when the last word from the pulpit is one of blessing.
A benediction is also a kind of charge. It reminds God’s people what gracious resources go with them as they leave corporate worship to pursue worship in all of life. They are encouraged, but they are also challenged.
Benedictions can take the form of Scripture that is read after the final prayer. Scriptures that readily lend themselves to this function include Numbers 6:24-26, Romans 15:13, 2 Corinthians 13:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, Hebrews 13:2-21, 1 Peter 5:10-11 and Jude 24-25. Sometimes other Scriptural texts may be adapted into a blessing or charge, without doing violence to the original meaning.
Musical benedictions can be used in place of, or together with spoken ones. Hymns such as “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”, “Be Thou My Vision”, “Now May He Who from the Dead”, the well-known “Doxology”, or some of the texts such as Numbers 6:24-26 or Jude 24-25 set to appropriate music.
Appropriate benedictions send believers off encouraged, fortified and challenged to be ambassadors for Christ in the coming week. They close Christian worship appropriately, on a note of hope.