19 November 2014

The Prayer of the Church

in the old Common Service is itself a powerful lesson in learning how to ask good things from God and to receive His varied benefactions with thanksgiving and praise. As I pondered that prayer this morning, I was particularly appreciative of this paragraph:

And although we have deserved Thy righteous wrath and manifold punishments, yet, we entreat Thee, O most merciful Father, remember not the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions; but out of Thine unspeakable goodness, grace, and mercy, defend us from all harm and danger of body and soul. Preserve us from false and pernicious doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and despair of Thy mercy, and from an evil death. And in every trouble, show Thyself a very present Help, the Savior of all men, and especially of them that believe.

Three things stood out to me in that petition. First, our ancestors in the faith held that doctrine was not by any means a neutral thing. When it was falsified, it was pernicious: a danger that they ranked ahead of any temporal disaster that could befall. Second, that petition for preservation from "despair of Thy mercy." The very real danger of sinners being so utterly overwhelmed in their own sinfulness that they imagine that it could extinguish the ocean of divine mercy. Third, how fitting this prayer is for us to offer in the St. Louis area as we await of whatever will follow in the wake of the Michael Brown Grand Jury announcement.

The little volume An Explanation of the Common Service (now reprinted by Emmanuel Press and worth owning by every Lutheran), notes that the General Prayer has been "in almost its present form in 1553." The Muehlenberg liturgy insisted that it not be altered. The question is put: "Are the prayers of the Common Service preferable to free prayers?" and the answer given: "Yes. Because they are not the prayers of the Minister, but of the Church; not of a single congregation, but of the whole Church; and because each person may readily take part in them. The needs of God's people are ever the same, and the beautiful forms, which the Church has developed in her experience through the ages, give full expression to the believer's wants at all times." (p. 47) 

There's wisdom there.

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