During services in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, following the distribution and the post-communion prayer, the pastor and congregation speak the Salutation and Benedicamus responsively. “The Lord be with you.” “And with thy spirit.” The pastor reminds the people gathered in the Name of the Lord that He is with them. He has been with them in the reading and proclamation of His Word. He has been with them in His Holy Supper.
It is fitting that the last thing the congregation speaks is “Thanks be to God” in response to the pastor’s encouragement, “Bless we the Lord.” The pastor’s words echo the end of each of the five sections of the book of Psalms (see the last verses of Psalm 41, 72, 89, 106, and 150). The congregation then echoes the words of Paul (1 Corinthians 15:57), “ But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” After all that He has done for us, we close the service by giving thanks where thanks are due.
At the end of each regular service, the pastor closes with the words of the benediction. These words are from the end of Numbers 6, which reads, “The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: “‘”The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”‘ “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.””
God gave these words to Moses to give to Aaron and his sons, the priests of Israel. He promised to bless the Israelites, His chosen nation, as His name was put on them. So He puts His name on us. We are called Christian. We bear the name of Christ from the time of our Baptism. As we bear His name, He continues to bless us. These words given to Aaron still accomplish the same today. They speak His blessing upon those who are gathered to hear it.
Further, these words echo Jesus’ last words to the disciples before He ascended into heaven. Luke records (24:50-51), “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”
While there are occasionally other words used as benediction, often taken from Paul’s epistles, the Aaronic benediction which is normally spoken has the distinction of being the only benediction commanded by God. It is used the most frequently because it alone comes directly from the mouth of God. And what God has said, God will do. Indeed, He alone gives us peace. Since we have gathered to receive God’s gracious gifts, it is fitting, then, that we close the service with the word “peace.”