The Divine Service – The Nunc Dimittis

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In our last article, we considered the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God) and the distribution of the Lord’s Supper in the Divine Service. The communicants having received the Holy Communion depart with a blessing reminding them of their Lord’s presence with them strengthening and preserving them in the true faith unto life everlasting. This blessing then concludes with the words, “Depart in peace, for your sins are forgiven.”

It is a real blessing to hear those words because in a very objective and real way the Lord has bestowed upon the communicant forgiveness of sins. It is not up to the communicant’s feelings to believe he is forgiven, but the Lord’s own words and work in the Sacrament of the Altar.

This blessing is then remembered, cherished, and verbalized in the canticle of praise known as the Nunc Dimittis (“Now Depart”), also referred to as Simeon’s Song. This canticle is recorded in Luke 2:29-32. It was originally sung by Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the Temple at 40 days old, according to the Mosaic Law. We are told that the Lord had promised Simeon that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah, the Savior. As Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, the Spirit led Simeon to Jesus, whom he took up in his arms and blessed Him saying,

Lord, now You let Your servant depart in peace according to Your word. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, 1996)

Notice how the canticle directs us back to God’s word, His promise. Being in the presence of the Savior, even though still an infant, prepared Simeon to depart this life in peace, the peace of forgiveness. This peace was not only for Simeon, but for the Gentiles and for Israel as well, since the Savior, this Jesus, was God’s “salvation” for the whole world.

We find it appropriate then to sing this canticle after receiving the Lord’s Supper because we, too, have seen our salvation in, with, and under the bread and wine (as Jesus said, “This is My body…This is My blood” (Mark 14:22, 24). The same body that Simeon held in his arms is the same body that died on the cross and rose again. It is the same body that we have just received in the Lord’s Supper, according to His word and promise. We are then made ready to depart in peace, depart this altar, depart this Divine Service, depart this life because we have the peace of forgiveness.

We then conclude the Nunc Dimittis with a minor doxology, “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.” This Trinitarian phrase of praise recognizes the whole Godhead’s role in bringing about our salvation. It is a natural response to His gift of peace, the forgiveness of sins.

Rev. Gullixson is the pastor at Our Savior Lutheran Church at 162 Sneden Street. The Divine Service begins at 9:30 AM every Sunday. To speak with Pastor Gullixson, please call (760) 873-6589.