Benedictions appear in worship services because benedictions are in the New Testament, where we see that the early church used them. The early church got them from the Old Testament. We think of the Aaronic benediction:
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 upon you and give you peace. (Num. 6:24–26)
Part of the liturgy of both the synagogue and the temple included benedictions.
A benediction comes at the end of the service, and a benediction is a blessing, a gospel blessing. It’s saying to the people of God: “You have worshiped. You’re going out for the rest of the week to work and labor. Go in peace. Go with the blessing and the assurance of God’s covenant promises upon you that He will never leave you nor forsake you, that you are Christ’s, and that you will be Christ’s forever. You may experience trials and difficulties this week, but you are covenant children underneath the umbrella of the covenant blessings. You are not under the covenant curses. Remind yourself that you’re under the sunlight of the gospel this coming week.” The benediction is a glorious moment.
Some preachers lift their hands while giving a benediction. I lift mine because I think they did in the early church, so it’s a gesture. In Britain, people close their eyes during benedictions because they wrongly understand the benediction as a prayer or a wish, but really the benediction is a declaration. Therefore, ministers will often say, “Lift your heads, open your eyes, and receive the benediction,” because it’s not the minister’s benediction; it’s God’s benediction.
I was greatly impressed for a season by a dear friend of mine, Dale Ralph Davis, who is an Old Testament professor and author of many works on the Historical Books of the Old Testament. He was with us at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia for five years as the evening preacher, and he would make his own benedictions. I had never done that. I had always used benedictions from the Bible, but I’ve been freed from that following him. Now, I often use part of the sermon or a familiar line from a hymn and turn that into a benediction as a word from God, a blessing for the coming week.