When my colleagues and I were in Chicago in 2006 for training on introducing the new hymnal (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, ELW) we brought back this riff on the dismissal as one of our favorite things. One of the presenters said that these words were the impetus behind the many options that we have for the final words of dismissal in the sending rite: “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” “Go in peace. Remember the poor.” And so on.
The Send part of our liturgy, also known as the sending rite, contains very few elements: the Sending of Communion (sending communion ministers to take the Sacrament to those who are homebound), a Blessing (also known as a benediction), a Sending Song, and the Dismissal, as above.
ELW also suggests doing announcements at this point in the service, as symbolic of our taking Christ’s mission into the world. Announcements are a tricky thing. If you put them at the beginning, those who are late might miss them. At the end, is anyone listening? If you put them after the Peace and before the Offering, all the focus on God is lost.
Speaking as someone who’s both made announcements and listened to them, the length can get out of hand fast. We decided a long time ago that whoever is the presiding pastor has the final say as to what gets announced and by whom. They’re all in the bulletin insert anyway – we print them on a different color paper so they are easily pulled out to take home.
The matriarch of our community, who died this past July, had a practice with the bulletin insert and announcements that bears repeating. She took them home every week and put them on her refrigerator, and she would take time daily to “pray the announcements.” For each person, each ministry, each upcoming activity on that insert, she would be in prayer. What a gift that was to us!
Back to the Sending of Communion. This is a practice that dates back to the earliest days of the church, and is recorded in the First Apology of Justin Martyr, a second century Christian philosopher:
“A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.”
The “deacons” in the Apology are not ordained people, but rather persons who have been commissioned for service by the community. Many parish communities throughout Christianity do likewise today. If a parish has a Stephen Ministry team, they may be the ones sent with the consecrated elements. The “sending” is intended to be used if a group of people will be carrying out this ministry through the week. Obviously there is an organizational element to this too, but it can be very meaningful for the one receiving this ministry – knowing that they are receiving a portion of that which the community shared.
The Blessing is a pronouncement of God’s blessing on the assembly. The Sending Song might be a more generic end-of-worship song, such as “On Our Way Rejoicing” (ELW 537) or it might be very specific to the season, such as “Joy To The World” (ELW 267) during Christmas. At Bethlehem, during Advent we have what we call a “seated postlude” between the Sending Song and the Dismissal. We started doing this many years ago as something of an antidote to the holiday frenzy, and now it has become an important part of the season. Music is offered that either expresses our longing for the Christ child, or provides a quiet meditation.
And finally, we come to the Dismissal. When in Chicago we said “Go in peace. DO SOMETHING!” we weren’t trying to be contrary – that really is the essence of the Sending rite. The rubric, or instruction, for the dismissal reads: “The assisting minister may send the assembly into mission.” It DOESN’T read, “The assisting minister dismisses the congregation.” The idea of “do something” as the dismissal, however, should be clarified. It’s not a command in the sense that “doing something” is a requirement for continued participation in the body of Christ. Rather, it’s our response to the lavish, freely-given love and grace of God made manifest in Jesus. In thanksgiving for God’s saving grace, we in turn “do something” (serve the Lord, remember the poor, etc.) for the life of the world and for the sake of the gospel. The Dismissal isn’t meant to simply send us outside to have coffee, but rather to send us into service in the world, knowing that Christ is with us.
However, because we are Lutheran, there IS coffee after church. This is most certainly true.