Grace and Peace from Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Over the past year we have been exploring the elements of worship in these articles so that we can see a few of the reasons that we do some of the things that we do each Sunday. We certainly have not said everything that can be said regarding any of these elements, but hopefully have noted a few reasons about which you might not have thought deeply before this series of articles began. There is one final element of Sunday morning worship to discuss yet – the pronouncement of God’s blessing (sometimes this is generically called a benediction – meaning a good word).
The pronouncement of God’s blessing is the last official step preparing those in attendance to disperse from the worship gathering on the heavenly mountaintop to reenter the world. This is a performative declaration – the act of speaking it makes it so – like the pronouncement of pardon (not merely an assurance of pardon) and the pronouncement of marriage. When the ordained preacher declares that a couple is man and wife that couple becomes man and wife through the saying of those words. So likewise, when the ordained preacher pronounces God’s blessing then those present at the time are actually being blessed by God.
This event is so very important to the formation of a fully-Christian imagination because of what Tim Clydesdale calls the “identity lock box.”1 It is common today for many to participate in a church service but then put their faith inside a “lock box” where they keep it until the next time (if there is a next time). Another word for the identity lock box idea is compartmentalization. In other words, the Christian faith does not make any actual difference in your everyday life if you can keep that church stuff separate from the rest of your life. However, the pronouncement of God’s blessing invites you to continue the journey of faith throughout the week knowing that God is with you. This is a matter of shaping your identity because the kind of people the church wants to make are those who continue being the church during the week.
But not only do you keep on being the church during the week but doing “church” (i.e. liturgy) during the week. It may even be helpful for you to think of yourselves as commissioned by this blessing to be priestly liturgists. For example, the pronouncement of God’s blessing is what empowers parents to be worship leaders in their homes with common meals as quasi-sacraments. So that we appreciate that our liturgical life continues after the service is formally over, we often sing another hymn – which can also be a common part of your daily worship. Next time we will reflect briefly on what it takes to make all these things we have been discussing over the last year to really stick, but this is a big part of it.
1Belcher, In Search of Deep Faith, p.28.