The Aaronic Benediction that concludes the traditional worship service in a Lutheran church may sound like one of the most basic parts of the service, but it was not always this way.
When Luther was asked to write a revised liturgy that did away with some of the Catholic abuses of the service, he mentioned the Aaronic Benediction as being a worthy conclusion to the service. This was a rather radical idea, because prior to this the service concluded with the bland statement, “It is the dismissal.” There is no requirement to use the Aaronic Benediction, for the service of Aaron and his sons has found its fulfillment in Christ, the Great High Priest. Nevertheless, a blessing given by God already has much to commend it.
The first time we see Aaron blessing the people of Israel is in Leviticus 9, just after his ordination. The priesthood has been established and now the worship of God can begin. Moses and Aaron bring the sacrifices and lay them on the altar as the first act of worship, inaugurating the worship life of Israel.
As Moses and Aaron bless the people for the time, fire from heaven comes down to consume the offerings and the glory of the Lord shines forth in splendor. The symbolism comes through clearly. The priest has entered into God’s presence and the priest and the people have been accepted. Now the priest carries out to the people the benefits that only come from being in God’s presence. God confirms their status as His people.
The benediction is a blessing from God and thus a declaration that even when the people depart they do not go alone. They continue to be His people and continues to bless them even though they are gathered in worship their status before Him does not change.
It’s unfortunate Luther does not comment more on what he thinks about the Aaronic Benediction, but his rediscovery of it brings a renewed understanding of who we become as a result of our gathering in worship around the presence of God. We take everything we have received with us when we leave. Our identity is built what takes place in worship, but does cease being true when we leave church. We are always God’s people. His presence goes with us wherever we go.