The Lord Be With You


That’s what Dr. Norman Nagel says is going on in the Divine Liturgy when: “The Lord be with you,” is spoken by the presiding minister, the man put there as the instrument for the Lord’s speaking of his words.”[1]

I fondly remember hearing Dr. Nagel speak to us about this important and one of the oldest liturgical parts.  He emphasized that this is an important exchange in the Divine Service and we should convey to the people the meaning so they too can understand, grasp and benefit from its blessings.  Thus, this encouragement that we teach to all who would listen to join us in this divine dialogue.  He expressed that basically the minister is declaring to the assembled that he is the called and ordained servant of the Word that will be speaking the words that follow on the Lord’s behalf.  And the people’s response acknowledges this “And with thy spirit” or “And also with you.”

This occurs in our Divine Service settings three times.  It first takes place in the Salutation to the Collect.  It next appears in the Preface to Holy Communion.  Then finally, in the Salutation.  To most of our people, it may simply appear to be nothing more than a simple greeting, but it much more than that: “it is indicative of the special relationship between the minister and the congregation.  It has been called “The Little Ordination.”[2]

Thus, in each of these three occasions it is expressing to all to hear, believe and confess that this man who is speaking/chanting “The Lord be with you” is placed there by the Lord Himself to be the Lord’s mouth in this moment.  The words that follow this are the Lord speaking, the Lord serving, the Lord giving.  Nagel expresses this well: “The Lord is serving, giving out his gifts.  His gifts are given with the words that carry and bestow what they say.  That is the way of his words.  They are alive with his Spirit, who with the gifts thus worded to us creates and nourishes faith.”[3]

These very words “The Lord be with you” are Scriptural: Judg. 6:12; Ruth 2:4; Ps. 129:8; Luke 1:28; 2 Tim. 4:22.   From the earliest usage of this phrase, we glean clearly that it is the affirmation of a man’s invocation of the Lord’s name for the blessings of the hearers.  Proper exegesis of these passages sees this consistency throughout the Bible.

Exemplary here is its usage in Ruth 2:4.  Wilch in his Ruth commentary connects all this up well for us: “Behind the form used by Boaz stood that promise of the Lord basic to all his commitments: “I am/will be with you!”  Although God may also be present to judge, through his appointed means of grace he confers his salvation, and for believers, his continual presence is a constant comfort and source and hope against all difficulties.  His OT promise is fulfilled in the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, Immanu-El, “God with us” as in Ruth 2:4.  Our Lord remains with us, forgiving our sins and granting us faith and salvation, through Holy Baptism in the triune name and the proclamation of his Word according to all that he has commanded.”[4]

When we catechize those who are not aware of why this phrase’s usages are included nor their meaning, we do a most blessed thing.  We link them to our early church brothers and sisters in affirming the Lord present among us to bless us with His words of grace.   Prayerfully for most of them who learn this, worship will never be the same for them.  Each time they hear and make the exchange in the Divine Service all three times, they will listen more intently to the Lord speaking words of grace and forgiveness of sins for them through His chosen man.


[1] Fred L. Precht, ed., Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (St. Louis: CPH, 1993), 291.

[2] Ibid., 411.

[3] Ibid., 290.

[4] Wilch, John R., Ruth, Concordia Commentary, (St. Louis: CPH, 2006), 213-214.

About Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer

he Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer graduated with a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Wyoming in 1971. From 1971 to 1975 he served as executive trainee for Westinghouse in Denver, CO. Then from 1975 to 1979 he was marketing director/administrator for Storage Technology Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. From 1979 to 1984 he was Product Marketing Manager for United Technologies/Mostek of Carrollton, Texas. Then another calling came into his life. After attending four years of seminary at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, he was called in 1988 to serve as Pastor of Peace and Trinity Lutheran Churches in Trail, British Columbia, Canada. He served there until he was called to be Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan in 1991. In 2012 he was called to be Director of Broadcast Services for the LCMS. The Rev. Rod Zwonitzer is author of Testing the Claims of Church Growth (CPH, 2002). He is co-founder of the Peacemakers Dialogue Group, has served on the Board of Directors of LATINO (Lutheran Action Improving Native Spanish Outreach), is a co-founder of the Ephphatha Lutheran Mission Society, and has served as an adjunct professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Rev. Zwonitzer retired in 2015 and resides in Florida.


The Lord Be With You — 3 Comments

  1. Ruth 2:4 and other passages demonstrate that “The LORD be with you” was a common greeting. Similar greetings are retained in several cultures today, e.g. “Grüss Gott” in German and “Good-bye” in English. The plain meaning is the one I understand, and I appreciate it in the Liturgy as a humanizing common touch: pastor and congregants momentarily exchanging a greeting much as peers would.

    In the three places where the greeting is exchanged, what follows immediately is an invitation for everyone to participate in a collective prayer. That’s not highlighting the pastor’s role and authority; to the contrary, it affirms that he is a man among brothers and sisters as he solicits participation in a prayer by all in attendance. That’s consistent with our belief that “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5)

    It’s also consistent simply with what greetings do; you greet someone to put him/her at ease and establish rapport. So we come before the throne of grace together without fear (Hebrews 4:16), trusting that indeed God is already with us.

    Given the joy that comes from a fairly straightforward understanding of the greeting, what is the value of trying to promulgate a hidden meaning for it, as if the greeting amounts to a set of code words?

    The author says that through the greeting the preacher is “expressing to all to hear, believe and confess that this man who is speaking/chanting ‘The Lord be with you’ is placed there by the Lord Himself to be the Lord’s mouth in this moment.”

    If you’re a pastor and believe that is the case, why not speak plainly and say what you want people to understand?: “I’m placed here by the Lord Himself to be the Lord’s mouth in this moment.” Surely that would help people know what to think of you.

  2. Carl:
    In response to your comments let me first ask you several questions? First are you a confirmed Lutheran? If so, were you taught about the Office of the Keys? Here we are taught from God’s Word about the called and ordained pastor speaking on God’s behalf the forgiveness of sins. No where in Scripture does it speak of just a friendly peer relationship between pastor and congregation as you suggest.
    Second, if you are a pastor you studied this relationship more thoroughly in the Confessions and swore before God and His people this would be your confession and practice.
    If you still wish to explore the how and why of this position, I suggest you meet with an LCMS pastor who would be delighted to assist you

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