Praying as Disciples

In the Gospel accounts, the disciples determine Jesus has neglected teaching them about an important aspect of our relationship to God, namely how one should pray. John the Baptist has spent some time teaching his followers and Jesus’s disciples want to know too. As good disciples, we, like they, learn what it means to pray from our Lord and Master. We learn not just who to pray to, but what sort of content our prayers should have. In typical fashion, the things Jesus shares carry many layers and require a great deal of exploration to fully understand.

Anyone who has gone through confirmation class in a Lutheran church has studied the Lord’s Prayer in detail. Luther discusses much of the depth of the various petitions of the Lord’s Prayer in his Small and Large Catechisms. As with the Ten Commandments, each of the petitions covers substantially more than what the bare words might suggest. I don’t really need to rehash all of that, since you can go read it for yourself.

Instead, I want to take a moment to consider the place of the Lord’s Prayer in the service. Prayer is usually something we consider as disciples. A disciple responds to his teacher, whether through questions, requests, or simply in conversation. It is part of how we learn and grow. We may also consider this in light of our priestly role, lifting up the cares and concerns of the world to our Creator.

There is nothing unusual there, except that the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t appear in the Service of the Word, which is where we focus on discipleship as we hear God’s Word and respond to it through prayer and offerings. Instead we find the Lord’s Prayer in the Service of the Sacrament, in the context of Communion. Here we are encountering God face to face. Here we are learning what it truly means to be God’s people. Communion is the foundation for our role as apostles, taking the message of salvation to the world, a message we are given firsthand in the presence of God.

Some aspects of the different petitions of the Lord’s Prayer seem a natural fit to Communion. “Give us this day our daily bread,” makes perfect sense as we receive the Body of Christ in the bread. “Lead us not into temptation,” also seems fitting as we approach the altar to receive God’s grace. Likewise, “Deliver us from evil.” Each of these, in their own way, draws on what we receive at the Lord’s table.

Taken together, these petitions become something much more. We enter into God’s presence and, in so doing, we enter into His kingdom. We see and experience what God intends for the world as we gather together as His redeemed people. Here we receive the daily bread that gives us life for the day but also life for eternity. We receive not just the bread, but also the days themselves. Here in God’s kingdom, temptation and evil have no place. We are delivered from evil as we are gathered in the protective arms of our Heavenly Father. He is the one who leads us to green pastures, not to temptation. We are forgiven and we likewise forgive as we are joined together as one. God’s will is done among us and His name is hallowed as our relationship is restored and we are finally where we belong.

We pray, “Thy kingdom come,” not because we are calling for Him to bring some distant, nebulous future full of little-understood blessings. We are calling on Him to make what we receive and experience in Communion into a permanent fixture. The future that He brings to us in Communion is what we ask Him to establish forever. Each Sunday, and any other day we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking to see His kingdom again and to remain there for eternity. Thus, the Lord’s Prayer unites everything we find in Communion and makes it a part of our daily life. We are constantly requesting the blessings granted in His presence, in His kingdom, and so we find the Lord’s Prayer right before the sacrament. In essence, Communion is God’s response to our prayer. We call for the kingdom to come. He hears and says, “Here it is. Come and see!”

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