One slogan which inspired the Reformation was: “The Church reformed and always reforming.” Although the reformers were purifying the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church, they were not so arrogant to believe they perfected the Church. So, as we seek to continually reform and purify our own worship, we must guard against the tendency to think we have arrived at perfection.
Part of this reformational purifying means we need to re-examine little things we do in worship and compare them to the Word of God. I call them “little things” because there are a host of practices and attitudes we have about worship which we just picked up along the way. They are not matters of life and death, and we may have never thought about why we do them. One such practice is the nearly-universal practice of closing our eyes and adopting a prayerful attitude during the Benediction. Benediction comes from the Latin word benedico, which means “I bless.” In the Benediction, the minister blesses the congregation in the name of Christ. It is not a prayer. It is not a general wishing the congregation well. It is an actual blessing. Just as the minister preaches in the name of Christ, baptizes in the name of Christ, serves the Lord’s Supper in the name of Christ, so he blesses in the name of Christ. It is appropriate, then, that we look up and receive the benediction. If someone were blessing us, would we look down, close our eyes, and ignore them?
The Benediction is also part of the minister Commissioning the congregation. In our order of liturgy, we are first Called to worship God. Then we Confess our sins. God then Cleanses us through the minister’s declaration of pardon and absolution. After this, God Consecrates us through the preaching of the gospel. In Communion, God feeds us and we feast with joy in his presence. Finally, God Commisions us to go out into all the world, making disciples of all the nations. After we serve God in the liturgy, we go out to serve the world. After God equips us, through the Word and Sacraments, we are commissioned to do good works and live a holy life.
It is appropriate, then, for the minister to raise his hands as he blesses the people. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites prevailed in their battle against Amalek (Ex. 17:11-12). Aaron, the high priest, raised his hand to bless the people (Lev. 9:22). Our great High Priest, the Lord Jesus did the same: he lifted up his hands and blessed his disciples as he gave them the Great Commision (Lk. 24:50). The Benediction is the minister’s blessing on the people before they go out of the holy place. The Benediction reminds the people of their holy calling. After Christ has given them their marching orders through the preaching of the Word, he gives them a blessing to strengthen them for another week of spiritual warfare. So then, at the end of the service, look up and receive the Benediction.