With arm and hand raised, the last words spoken by the pastor in a church service are the words of the benediction. Some pastors raise only three fingers to symbolize that the blessing comes from the Holy Trinity. Like many other customs in the church, this hand gesture was adapted from secular customs of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Lucius Apuleius, a second century Roman writer, described the gesture by which one man quieted a crowd so he could speak. He “held out his right hand in the manner of an orator, shutting down the two smaller fingers and stretching out the other three, and pointing up with his thumb a little” (Tr. Wm. Adlington, “The Golden Ass,” 58).
It’s the oratory, the sermon that should make the benediction especially dear. The 19th century preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, said to pastors, “There are, also, some specialties in this true Christian love and sympathy that bear upon the pulpit. In the first place, the whole cast of your thought and the subjects with which you deal are to bear the impress of this good news, —that God is Love, and that God so loved the world, that, having died for it, he now sits at the right hand of God, a risen Savior to live for it. You are to administer all the great truths, the most rugged truths, in the spirit of the truest sympathy, benevolence, and love” (in “For All the Saints,” IV, 173).
May the Triune God bless you and yours with such a message this Sunday!