Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I speak this apostolic greeting and extend grace to you, what does that mean? I am afraid that our thinking about grace is often muddled in the middle. We tend to think of grace as a substance or as a gaseous cloud that envelops us at certain times. It gets transferred to us the way, perhaps, the way cookie dough gets transferred from the package to the pan – in dollops – when we read the Bible or pray or receive the Lord’s Supper.
Or to change analogies, we think of grace as waves emanating out from the source, and when the waves wash over us, we get stronger or bolder or more joyful or change colors or something.
Here’s my point: when we think of grace as an impersonal thing, a vague, created entity or force or energy from God, abstractly considered, then we have stepped back from the biblical picture of a personal Triune God dwelling with His people and giving them gifts. In the Bible the Triune God speaks, and the world springs into existence. He speaks again, and the clouds bring forth rain. He speaks again, and the wild donkeys give birth.
The Triune God dwells with His people, personally abiding with them, granting them His favor by His Word. In the Bible God’s favor is evident through the gifts of promises, land, seed, rescue from enemies, victory in battle, commandments, fellowship with God, the Spirit’s presence, rituals like the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and inclusion in God’s people. These are all personal favors from the Lord God, evidences of His divine favor person-ally bestowed on you and me in Christ by the power of the Spirit.
So “grace” is not a wave or energy or a dollop of something coming from God to you. Grace is the personal presence of the Triune God Himself, here to bless you and favor you. So when the apostles wrote “grace to you,” what they really meant was “God to you.” The Son of God, St. John told us, came in the flesh “full of grace and truth.” He came full of the Father’s personal favor toward Him. And now we who are baptized into Christ are the recipients of that same dynamic, intensely personal favor. God favors us by giving Himself to us.
And that is what is going on in our covenant renewal today. Worship and singing and preaching and communion are not means of grace. They are grace. The Triune God is with us, abiding here, and we are in His presence. Because we are in Christ, that means we receive His blessing and forgiveness and joy.
So come, let us draw near to the God who is three in one. Let us worship the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. And grace to you.