At the Salutation and Benediction, the pastor raises his hands before the congregation. What is the meaning of this gesture?
The Salutation and Benediction mark the opening and the closing of the service. At the salutation, God, through the minister, pronounces His blessing on the congregation. It is important to recognize that the “grace and peace” pronounced at the salutation is not from the minister but from God. Likewise, the blessing pronounced at the benediction to send people out from the meeting is also a pronouncement from God, not from the minister.
The laying on of hands symbolizes blessing. In Genesis 48, when Jacob blessed his sons, he laid his hands on their heads. When Moses conferred the office of the leader of Israel to Joshua he likewise laid his hands on him. Ordination to the office of elder in the New Testament was done by the laying on of hands. It symbolizes the blessing of God conferred through the human representative to the one being so blessed.
We have several examples of the lifting up of hands to the people of God: “Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, blessed them.” (Lev 9:22 NKJ) And, “He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.” (Luk 24:50 NKJ) In both of these cases, the leader blesses the people collectively by the raising of hands. The laying on of hands symbolizes this blessing with one or two people, but when it is a group of people, the same principle is shown by the raising of hands.
Raising of hands is a collective laying on of hands. The minister is symbolically laying hands on everyone in the congregation and pronouncing the blessing of God on them- first, in the salutation, that the congregation would know the forgiveness of sins and the power of the Spirit to enable them to worship God in spirit and truth. Then, in the benediction, God sends us out with His blessing on us, that we would continue to know the love of God, the grace of Christ and the communion of the Spirit in all our lives. The raising of hands shows that this pronouncement is not simply well-wishing by the pastor, but is an official pronouncement of God’s blessing on us, and is to be received therefore with faith and confidence.
When we hear the salutation and the benediction, we hear the words of God spoken to us through His mouth. Let us open our eyes and look to the raised hands of the pastor as the representative of God, feel God’s hands on us, and receive that blessing with faith. God certainly promised that all who desire the presence of the Holy Spirit, who ask for that presence, will receive it, and we see the visible reminder of that promise in the raised hands of the pastor each Sunday morning.