In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
People loved by God, what an honor it is to gather with you and ponder a bit about daily habits of prayer. But whenever we presume to speak ABOUT the prayer we place ourselves in a precarious position. John Kleinig (in Grace upon Grace, p. 215) observed: “By itself, theorizing about prayer is as useless as theorizing about love. So teaching about prayer is only useful if it comes from praying and improves our prayers.” To that end, Dominus vobiscum. (See, at least we know how to answer when someone says it in Latin, which is more than we can say in English!). Oremus:
Kind and all-merciful Father, Your Scriptures reveal that Your Son never ceases interceding for us at Your right hand even as Your Spirit pleads within us with groans too deep for words. Open our hearts and minds anew to the wonder of Your invitation to walk before You always and to lift up our hearts to You, bringing to You every heartache, every joy, every fear, in the joyous freedom of dear children turning to a Father they know loves them; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Pardon me getting at this sideways. I have long been intrigued about Galatians 2:20 and what it might actually mean. “I have been crucified with Christ and nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by...” By what? ESV offers: “by faith in the Son of God.” Thus, deep sixing the definite article, interpreting away the genitive by inserting an “in.” The KJV leaves both definite article and genitive intact: “And the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Luther does the same: “Denn was ich jetzt lebe im Fleisch, das lebe ich in dem Glauben DES Sohns Gottes.”
What does it matter? Well, what if what St. Paul is teaching here about Him who loved us and who gave Himself for us and who is Himself God’s Son, is that the life we get to live by being joined to Him through baptism is a life of sharing in HIS faith in the Father, HIS trust that He is the beloved Son and that His Father will never abandon Him to the grave, and that His Father is good and kind and loving and sent Him into this world precisely so that He could be the firstborn of many brethren? What if Jesus’ faith is given you in Baptism to be your very own faith, so that everything that is His by nature as the Eternal Son of the Father He come into the flesh to fork over to you by grace as the heavenly Father’s adopted children?
And in that everything, you find the prayer that arises from His faith. His weird kind of prayer. Indeed, His prayer. Prayer, then, not as some technique to be mastered, nor some dreary and random religious duty that God thinks you need to fulfill for your own good, nor three successful steps to butter up the King of heaven so that He reliably dispenses to you whatever you have decided you need from Him. Prayer instead as the simple asking of dear (that means loved) children, turning to a Father whom they love too. Along with Jesus. His prayer remains primary and it becomes yours as the faith of the Son of God becomes how you now live in the flesh.
In the Reformation Gospel from John 8, slaves have no permanent place in the house. Slaves always have to worry about getting the boot if they screw up too badly. Not so with the place of the Son. The Son’s place in the house is assured. And when He sets you free, He does by giving you His place, His Son’s place in the house. He effected the great switcheroo where He took your place under the Law’s condemnation precisely in order to bestow on you His place in the Father’s house. YOUR Father’s house. And you’ll never have the fear of being tossed out for not measuring up (slavish fear!); you have the astounding joy, the awe-inspiring shocker that you are loved as the very Son Himself is loved. And out of that, prayer. Christian prayer. That is, asking God like dear children ask their dear Father. That’s Christian prayer because that’s Christ’s prayer.
I would suggest then that our Catechism was not mistaken when it sought to invite us into the marvel and awe of such praying, not in the classroom, and even, in a way, not first in the Church, but first in the home. That’s after all where dear children learn to ask their dear fathers. When Jesus gives you His faith, then the very “family” of the Trinity becomes your home, as His Scripture teaches: “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world: even from everlasting Thou art God.” Psalm 90
And THIS is what made the disciples ask. Bonhoeffer noted that they saw Jesus do a whole bunch of stuff. They saw Him raise the dead and make water into wine and calm the storm with His word and give sight to the blind, and you name it. Stuff that left their jaws on the ground. But there is recorded but ONE thing that they asked Him: “THAT! Teach us to do that! Teach us how YOU do that!” And that one thing, of course, is prayer. “Lord, teach us to pray.” John had given his disciples a prayer and they just noted that with Jesus, well, His prayer was odd and different. Maybe if he taught them how to pray like Him, they might come to share His faith and this wild and amazing life that He lived, so full of joy in the Father and always living confidently at the receiving end of His giving and so utterly void of the fear of men. They wanted a piece of that action somehow. And the Lord Jesus complies, as you know.
He actually gives them a prayer: “When you pray, SAY.” And say what? Have you ever compared the prayers of Jesus to the prayers of the Old Testament? There is something largely (but not entirely) missing in the Old Testament. What is it? How the prayer is addressed!
Oh, if you are careful you can hear it in Moses’ song: “Is he not your father who created you? Who made you and established you?” Deu. 32:6. Isaiah got there in 64:8: “You, O Lord, are our Father, we are the clay.” Malachi gets you there in 2:10: “Have we not all one Father?” But these glimmers are rare and I do not believe that the Psalter ever gets you there. It’s got down that you are praying to the Almighty, El Elyon, El Shaddai, Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim and even Malchi but mostly it’s court language or cultic language. It’s NOT family language. Except for those odd places where you get to listen in to the heavenly dialog: “Thou art my Son; today have I begotten thee!” Now when the Son is sent from the Father (who remains King and God) and is sent on the mission of bringing the lost children of men into the family of God, then prayer is transformed. Not that the object of prayer changes; the same One, and in the mind of the Church primarily God the Father. But when He reveals Himself, gives Himself to you as your Father? The King of the Universe? The Creator of all? The One of infinite wisdom and understanding and measureless strength and power? And His Son says: “He’s your daddy and He loves you” and the Spirit inside cries: “He’s your daddy and He loves you”? And not just in the sense of “He’s your origin, your source” (in that sense he’s the Father of the sun or the moon!) but in the sense of He’s adopted you, declared you His child. Pet peeve on Justification. Chrysostom was right that if you stick with what you’re saved from, you’re missing the marvel. It’s not just that he says to those in prison, headed toward sure and certain damnation, “I declare you not guilty.” He not only throws open the prison doors, he leads us out and says: I declare you now mine, my adopted children, full legal heirs with my Son, my home is now your home! My everything is now as much YOURS as it is HIS. If you stop with “not guilty” you’ve missed the true and astounding wonder!!!
Now how to help form this conviction, this faith of Jesus, into the hearts and minds of little ones so that they may know that they have a Father and that there is nothing that will ever come their way that is too big or too difficult for Him; and that His love for them doesn’t waiver with their behavior but is deeper and stronger than the depths of time, and anchored in the cross? How to learn to pray out from the peace of the Son’s faith in His Father, particularly so can face the moments when they may be praying with the Son their own “Eli, Eli” with the stress on the I!? MY God.
The Catechism, I believe, gives us solid answer to this and if we DO what it teaches, prayer ceases to be a religious exercise or a theoretical problem and becomes the warp and woof of our daily living with the Word of God as we learn to pray His Spirit’s Word through our union with the Son of God.
So off to the Daily Prayers, subtitled “How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening” and “How the head of the family should teach his household to ask a blessing and return thanks.” This in the spirit of Kleinig’s the only theory of prayer that’s of use is one that helps us to pray. I firmly believe that the Catechism does exactly that!
This section has been so horribly neglected, because we’ve tended to treat the poor Catechism in a naughty manner, stealing it away from its native home and trying to make it fit something it manifestly was never intended nor written to fit: a class room! Piety is meant for the home and the CATECHISM was written for the home. And NOT written for the children, of course, but for the parents! It was written so that dad or mom would know how to teach their children by practice, that is, by doing what it actually says. Which is a far cry better than memorizing words to recite in an oral exam or even worse to write down on some sheet of paper with the teacher’s marker ready to pounce. Can we pretty, pretty please move the Catechism back to where it can breath again, and where it can BE a breath of fresh air again? If “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result from what you’ve always gotten” it is way past time in the Lutheran Church to get this little gem of a book away from being locked up in “Confirmation instruction” and into our homes! Rant over. Maybe.
And the daily prayers work at home in a way they’ll never work in the classroom because home’s where you sleep and home’s where you eat. And the locale of either actually form your home altars. There is first the bed and then there is the table. And both bed and table have their own liturgies. Those liturgies involve, as all liturgy does, a combination of actions and words.
So let’s look at the liturgy of the bed first. To get this liturgy you need to pull in the whole Biblical joining together of the images of sleep and death. “As the Lord has promised me, my death is but a slumber” (Luther’s great paraphrase of the Nunc Dimittis). Look at your bed and learn to think of your coffin so that you can look at your coffin and learn to think of it as your bed! What either has in common is this period of rest from which there is a rising, a rousing, a resurrection. So, “in the morning, when you get up...”
The Catechism teaches us to see the entire pilgrimage of life mirrored in each day. Awake, O Sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will give you light! That is, out of your native darkness through the inheritance of original sin, Light in Jesus dawned on you at your Baptism in which you were raised with Him through faith in the mighty working of God who raised Him from the dead. And now you get to live a new life in companionship with Him on the journey home to the Father. And in this life He will strengthen you with food and prepare you all the way through till the work begun in your baptism is finally completed as all your practice pays off, and you lay down for the last time in this age only to be raised from death and freed from corruption on the day of the general resurrection, the appearing of Christ.
So just getting up is already an amazing gift of grace! God kept you safe through the night, protected you from all harm, and has brought you to see the light of yet another day here in this world as His child. Just like you didn’t choose to be born, but your life came to you as a gift from Him, just as you didn’t choose to be born again, but it came as a gift, so the sustaining of your life is always gift. And that you can “get up” is already huge. And even huge-er (ha!) when it’s picture of a bigger getting up that happened when you were baptized and raised with Christ and all of it but practice for that biggest getting up when you rise on the last day.
Each morning comes as your own little anticipation of the resurrection, when the Sun of Righteousness will shine with healing in His wings and we’ll indeed “get up and take up our bed and go home” as those whom the Son of Man has freed and forgiven. And so “when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross, and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The conjunction of Baptism and the sign of the holy cross deserves some consideration too. I do not think it is JUST that in the rite of Baptism you’ve been signed with the cross on forehead and heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. That is, that you’re HIS. It certainly is that. Luther keeps it in both1523 and 1526 baprismal booklets. But it reminds you each day too that apart from the Cross of Jesus, you’d have no safe access into the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The only eternal life in all the world is Him, His life, but His very holiness is death to sinners when experienced “raw” if I may so put it. Apart from the work of Christ, the wrath of God abideth upon the sons of disobedience. You only have the Father AS your Father only because of the suffering and death of His Son on the cross for you. So those baptismal words are intimately connected with the passion of the Son of God and you show it when you rise up in the morning and say the words outloud that He used to claim you as His own and you sign your very body with the cross as a reminder of HOW He made you His own and made it possible for you to share in His own life. And St. Paul is ringing in the background: “I have been crucified with Christ.”
So you’ve got a brand new day in front of you in Him and with Him and you start it with the reminder to yourself, to angels and to demons that You now are His. And then choices to make! “Then kneeling or standing...” So when you get up, you stand up, sign yourself with the cross and use your mouth to utter the first words of the day: “In the name of the Father...” and you can then either choose to fall down on your knees or to stand. What runs with either? Psalm 95, you know well. Venite. “Oh, come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Before the Lord. You are in His presence. That is how you will live your life. You may fall down before Him. Or, conversely, Nehemiah 9:5 “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be Your glorious name which is above all blessing and praise.” Again, the mark of being in His presence. Either standing or kneeling.
“Repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.”
Now, you really have to be a liturgical geek to see this, but what you have with that particular ordering, when paired with the invocation, is literally a walking your way backwards in the liturgy of Baptism. When you come to Baptism, it is first Lord’s Prayer then Creed then baptism in the triune name. At the start (and at the end) of each day it is inverted order: out from the name to the Creed to the Our Father. “The Lord bless your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore” said the Pastor as he led you to the font. Your whole life becomes a journeying out from or back into your Baptism. And the Creed, of courses, confesses who this Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are.
To pray the Creed already sounds ODD to most folks, I think. Hence you’ll notice some odd things going on in the Divine Service where a pastor will think he ought to turn and face the people or even the goofiness from the 60’s where the people were encouraged to turn and say the Creed to each other. The Catechism is blessedly devoid of such nonsense. It’s a prayer. But it’s a prayer because it’s the word of God. In the Creed we simply say back in very tight summary only what He’s already said to us. Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what we did when we began with the words He said to us in our Baptism? His words on our lips back to Him.
So I’ve been enormously blessed with grandkids. Eight and one on the way! But watching how the little ones begin to talk and master it. How it starts. Mom or dad or nana or pa saying over and over again the same thing, and the eyes attentive to the mouth and learning to form the sound. And how excited we get when it kinda sorta maybe sounds SOMETHING like what we were saying. Triumph! “As dear children...their dear Father.”
So we begin to pray first of all, but just saying back, repeating what He has said. Name, Creed, Prayer. Name and Creed are all about HIM. Who He is. The Large Catechism put it like this: “For in these three articles God Himself has revealed and disclosed the deepest profundity of His fatherly heart. He created us for the very purpose that He might redeem us and make us holy. And besides giving and entrusting to us everything in heaven and on earth, he has given us His Son and His Holy Spirit in order to bring us to Himself through them. For as explained earlier, we were totally unable to come to a recognition of the Father’s favor and grace except through the Lord Christ, who is the mirroring image of the Father’s heart. Without Christ we see nothing in God but an angry and terrible Judge. But we could know nothing of Christ either, if it were not revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.” Thus every day at the altar of the bedside: the confession that I walk this day or sleep this night before THIS God, the God who loved me so much as to create me and whose depths of love shown forth in the gift of His Son to redeem me and His Spirit to sanctify me. THIS we confess, this we pray, whenever we recite the Creed.
And from confessing the Creed, which is always an act of praise (“Thank the Lord and sing His praise, tell everyone what He has done”), we turn to the Our Father. We remember that we’re in that “our” only because Christ has extended His Sonship to us by the Spirit. We remember that it’s WE who are in that our. This we is not me and Jesus, but Jesus and all the Church. The Creed just reminded us of the holy Christian or catholic church in which there is forgiveness of sins and through which we come to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. It’s a we thing, not a me thing.
So when you are kneeling bedside or standing bedside and repeating your morning prayers, you realize that before you ever get to “I” you’ve been a bunch of we’s. So Luther’s great counsel to Peter the Barber (poor man), “Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain.” Treasury, Jan. 4th.
So Our...give us...forgive us...lead us...deliver us... Christian prayer is personal, but never individual. It is always offered in union with Christ and the Spirit who prompts it joins it to that of the entire body.
Luther added morning and evening the option of a little prayer that he composed that owes its origins to a bit of the monastic prayers he’d learned from his breviary. TLH, LW, LSB they all hijacked it for morning services, and that’s okay, I guess. Though it sounds odd to pray when not actually prayed right where he intended: at the altar of the bed. “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son...” for protection through the night (or through the day); for forgiveness at night; and how it commends “my body and soul and all things” into the Father’s loving hand, begging the companionship and protection of the holy angels: “Let your angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.”
Morning then, off to work with a song like one of the Ten Commandments. Great hymn to remind us of our various duties toward God and neighbor and so open our eyes to the plethora of good works God’s hidden throughout our lives for us to discover each day and enjoy in praise of Him and to the blessing of others. Or at evening, just going to sleep at peace. It might be our last night! And that’s all good. Sins confessed, ready for the resurrection whenever it shall be.
Now, note that all of this which I’ve expounded in detail really only takes a matter of what? Two minutes maybe? Can doing something as small as that morning and evening really lead us into the mystery of prayer and strengthen us? I’d argue a thousand times YES. I’m going to go out on a limb here. I do not think that when the Lord urged that we should pray always and not give up; or St. Paul exhorted us to “pray without ceasing” he meant that they meant that we should always be running our mouth. I do NOT think that the fellow who wrote *The Way of the Pilgrim* actually nailed it that we need to have the Jesus prayer, marvelous as that is, running constantly in our hearts in order to pray without ceasing. Nor do I think that our Lord and St. Paul were actually, in a paradoy of Lutheran idiom, giving a commandment that they knew we could never fulfill precisely so that we could confess what poor, miserable sinners we are and flee for mercy and forgiveness to God. Ugh. No. I suspect it’s as simple as what Brother Lawrence hit on when he thought about these matters as he faithfully washed yet another pile of dishes in the monastery scullery. It’s what God said to Abraham, the man who is called the father of faith: “Walk before Me and be blameless!” WALK BEFORE ME. Lawrence called it “practicing the presence of God.” I think that’s exactly what the Catechism morning and evening prayers are seeking to inculcate: remember who has raised you from the death of sin and how He has set you on a venture and journey with Him this day. You live this day with Him. He is nearer to you than your breath. Never forget in whom you live and move and have your being. Ask big things of Him, cause He loves you, and go enjoy the whole day in His presence and with the companionship and protection of His angels. I hope that makes a modicum of sense. When you start the day off saying these words and doing these actions, you remember in whose sight you will be walking all day. And when you do those actions and say those words at night and look upon your bed, you will remember into whose care you can entrust your body and soul and all things.
And then there is daily bread, the altar of the Table. First thing, though, is to note the cruel move that Luther made in the explanation of the fourth petition. He could just have said: “daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body.” He could have put a period and been done. But oh, no. He goes on to give that bodaciously long list that is so confusing because of its similarity to the explanation of the first article. And did he do it to torture little Lutheran children and make their puzzlers sore? No! He did it to open our eyes to the bounty of gift that rains down on us from the Father unceasingly so that we might not unthinkingly walk by the gift, but learn to sense His Fatherly love behind each and every one of them. And a huge part of this are the gifts that come to us at the table.
If the bedside is intimately tied by the prayers to Baptism, the table at home also serves as a bit of a mirror of the table around which we gather in the Church. Sadly, if the morning and evening prayers have been somewhat neglected among us, I fear the Table prayers have all but vanished in the space given to the pithy (and apparently Moravian) “Come, Lord Jesus!” But let’s take a step into the Catechism and ponder the blessing of the table and giving of thanks to see what treasures are opened to us here.
Again, how the head of the family is to teach the household to ask a blessing and return thanks. Note the odd rubric at the start: The children and members of the household shall go to the table reverently, fold their hands, and say...
I used to think the folded hands were a clever way to keep the children from grabbing at the food before the blessing or to keep them from getting into mischief with each other. That misses the boat by a mile. You see the key is reverently. Why with reverence? We can get at this by answering the question: What IS your refrigerator? Do you know? It is actually a morgue. It’s a place where you store recently dead things before corruption sits in (though of course there IS that nasty tupperware you forgot about with the bit of burger from last month or was it the month before? Better to throw it away than open it!). It holds dead things because this is rock bottom reality: you only go on living in this world because something else died and gave up its life and you put it into you to suck the last little bit of life out of it before it goes all bad. True for carrots, true for cattle. Something has to die that you may go on living. So yes, you come to the table with folded hands and reverence before the sacrifice.
And that something dies to give you life is not mere tragic necessity. It is in fact God Himself who sets our tables. We confess this with the words of the Psalm:
The eyes of all look to You, O Lord, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
And stop for a moment and glance toward the table in the Church, where Someone died that He might give Himself as food for you to life on, not for just a year or decade or so in this age, but to give you a food that endures. How did He put it? “Do not labor for the food that perishes (that is, rots), but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
Every time you come to your earthly table and you gather with reverence, you remember we live because something died and even more you will live forever because someone died for you. Reverence before the mystery! A gift of unfathomable proportions.
And in Him, then, you lift your voice in prayer and the Our Father is prayed at the table in the home just as we pray it at the table in the Church, towards a worthy reception of the gifts. Here, we might call them first article gifts to sustain first article life. And then: Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
He is the Giver of bountiful goodness and we the grateful recipients and we acknowledge it all comes to us from a Father and that we have such a Father only in Jesus.
Then comes what might be termed distribution and at the end, like in church, there is giving of thanks. The same rubric: “Also after eating, they shall, in like manner, reverently and with folded hands say: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endures forever. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” Hammering home, love that endures forever. Hammering home, unfailing love. Then onto Our Father and the final thanksgiving: We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for ALL Your benefits; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
And all of that liturgy at table each time you gather as a family for a meal (and note the assumption that meals are together - we intuitively sense that eating alone has something amiss about it. I wonder if that’s why folks who live alone tend to turn on a TV?). But all this liturgy at table, I’m guessing it would still take no more than another three minutes of prayer for each meal? But if fathers and mothers DID that, and food ceased to be understood as “fuel put in the tank” but seen for what it is as “a loving gift of life given by your Father for the sake of His Son” do you see how it would open eyes to see and rejoice in all His benefits, to begin to notice them and not take them for granted? To be moved to reverence and awe?
So imagine the set points of prayer, anchored in daily habits that touch bodily need: Bedside and Table as a kind of daily trellis on which the vine of prayer can grow and fill out the spaces in between, mirroring the way that Font and Table of the Church provide an overarching trellis for our whole lives. Reaching out from these points, we walk before God in the faith of Christ as dear children before a dear Father who loves them. And as we walk in His presence, and begin to be trained by the catechism to see the gifts showering down, we learn to exclaim and let prayer fill the day. Here’s how Luther put it in the Larger Catechism:
It is also useful that we form the habit of daily commending ourselves to God, with soul and body, wife, children, servants, and all we have, against every need that may arise. So also the blessing and thanksgiving at meals and other prayers morning and evening, have begun and remained in use. Likewise children should continue to cross themselves when anything monstrous or terrible is seen or heard. They can shout: “Lord God, protect us!” “Help, dear Lord Jesus” and such. And if anyone meets with unexpected fortune, however trivial, he says, “God be praised and thanked” or “God bestowed this on me.” LC I:70
Here’s the sort of prayer that grows from the confidence of knowing that the One to whom we pray has loved us with a love immeasurable, deep, divine, and to whom nothing is impossible but whose understanding and ways of loving us are not for us to prescribe.
When should pray? At all times and places, of course, but you have to start somewhere with habit. Our Catechism teaches: start at bedside and tableside and let it grow from there. Let it reach out to fill your life as the godly habits inculcated in the Catechism teach us to walk in His sight as children in whom He delights through His Son.
Dominus vobiscum. Oremus.
Glory to You, our Father, for Your countless gifts to us in Your Son, but above all for the gift of calling upon You as our Father in His name, praying, praising and giving thanks! Glory to You, O Eternal Son, for the gift of Your Father to be as our Father and for the joy of being joint-heirs with You! Glory to You, Everlasting Spirit, for Your never ceasing cries within us to our “Abba!” And for bringing us into the faith of Jesus and keeping us with Him in His true faith. Glory to You, blessed Trinity, for all Your unfathomable love and the unspeakable joy of walking before You in faith! Glory to You forever. Amen!