Monday, August 23, 2010
Begining and Ending with the Name of God...
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The name of God once marked on us in baptism is raised up again as the baptized community of God's people come together at His bidding. It is not a complete sentence but an invocation of that name. We not only speak the name that God has given us through His Son to name Him and call upon His mercy. We remind ourselves when that name was put upon us and the waters of baptism killed us to give us new life, connected us to the death and resurrection of Jesus, made new what was old, and clothed in righteousness what was sin...
When finally we come to the end of the Divine Service, we again come face to face with the Name of God. This time the name is not from Matthew 28 but from Numbers 6.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance (look upon you with favor) and give you peace.
According to the Scriptures, "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them..." Some might protest that we are not Israel but, of course, we are. We are the NEW Israel, the people of the new covenant forged with the blood of Christ, who satisfied the requirements of the Mosaic Covenant and fulfilled all its righteousness, once for all. By ending with this benediction we show the line which connects us to the gracious acts and Word of God in yesterday. And still, He puts His name upon His people and blesses them.
Just as the invocation is often misunderstood, so the benediction is. When we invoke God as He invites us to do, we are not being arrogant but doing what He has called us to do. It is this name in which we gather, in which two or three are gathered, which communicates us grace because this blessed name opens to us His Word and Sacraments. It is no magic formula but the people of God whom He has called by His Name now coming together under the banner of that Name to receive what that name offers to us -- grace upon grace in the Word that keeps it promise and the Sacraments that deliver to us Calvary's triumph, the empty tomb's hope, and the future life that death cannot transcend.
The blessing that ends the Divine Service is not some good word that pats us on the back and sends us forth expecting good things. It does not make us sacred the way some think of blessing. No, we end with the Name of God put upon us so that we, whom He declares to be the people of His Name, might wear that Name before the world, carry that Name with us through every struggle and sorrow of this mortal life, and be found faithful in that Name when mortal death opens as a gateway to the everlasting light and life which Jesus has prepared for us.
It is a wonderful thing to consider how that Name both begins and ends our time together, how it cleanses us to receive His gifts and then sends us with those gifts to witness them before those who do not yet know the Name above all names... Framed with the Name of God, we gather, we are washed and cleansed, taught and directed, fed and nourished, equipped and sent...