Liturgy Series: Part 11 – The Benediction
We've done it! We've come to the final installment of the Liturgy Series! It's been a great ride but now we come to an end. I hope you all who've been tracking a long have found this series helpful, interesting, and thought provoking. If nothing else perhaps one of you will head over to Amazon and pick up James K.A. Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom and read it for yourself.
With those closing remarks out of the way, let's get down in to the actuall meat of this final part in the series: the benediction.
While the benediction may serve as a natural way to dismiss the congregation in some churches it is really so much more. In this series we have emphasized the importance of corporate liturgical practices of the church in shaping the lives of the people of God. The benediction does not stray from this emphasis.
It is helpful to see the benediction as a recapitulation of the great commission that Jesus gave to his disciples in Matthew 28. Throughout the entire liturgy of the church we have seen the story of the Gospel display thoroughly and richly before our eyes and in our actions. We have been called by God, we've seen our guilt before God, we've repented of our sins and received God's forgiveness, we've confessed our belief in & allegiance to God, we've heard God's Word spoken over us. In all these parts of the liturgy the story of the gospel is on display. So we see that the benediction, just like the Great Commission is a fitting conclusion to this Gospel-charge liturgy.
The people of God are holy; that is they are set apart from the world. Yet this "set-apart-ness" is meant to be lived in such a way that the church is set apart for the world. The liturgy of the church is meant to shape God's people in such a way that they are now able to serve the world and fulfill God's original mandate. Here's how James K.A. Smith puts it in Desiring the Kingdom:
We've gathered to do what we were made for—praise and worship—and in so doing, we've been learning a language, participating in a story, undergoing training to fulfill our mission as the communal imago Dei. Christian worship is an affective school, a pedagogy of desire in which we learn not how to become spiritual and religious, but how to be human, how to take up the vocation given to us at creation. (pg. 205)
In the Great Commission, Jesus is reissuing the cultural mandate that God gave to Adam but he is doing so to the new humanity, the church. The church, like mankind's original call, is called to go out of the garden (Sunday morning worship) and into the world to serve it and heal it. Ending the service with the Lord's blessing and benediction is a blessing unto service. As Smith says:
So the good news announced in the Great Commission is that God has made it possible for us to actually participate in the cultural mandate. (pg. 206)
When we attend to the church's liturgy we enter into the greatness of the good news. Yet, as we enter in, we are immediately called to go out. Like Isaiah before the glory of God in the temple, we are cleansed then sent (Isaiah 6). In the same way that the Levitical priesthood was to serve the people of Israel, now the church (a priesthood of believers) is to serve the whole world. We go forth from the holy place with the good news of God's forgiveness to the world, not just Israel. Smith says:
The church is elected to responsibility, called to be the church to and for the world—not in order to save it or conquer it or even transform it, but to serve it by showing what redeemed human community and culture look like, as modeled by the one whose cultural work led him to the cross. (pg. 207)
As I highlighted in yesterday's post, the church is "the body of Christ." We should feel the weight of what that means. In the same way that Christ's work of service led him to the cross, so too should the church's. We are called not to condemn the world but to give our lives as a ransom for many (John 3:17).
As Issac Watt's penned in his hymn "Joy to the World:"
He came to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
As God's blessing flows to His people in the benediction it is not to stop in their hearts. God's blessings are to flow through his people out into the world; as far as the curse is found!
Food for thought.