Friday, December 14, 2007

The Lord's Eucharistic Prayer

Martin Luther included a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer in his German Mass, in the character of an exhortation before the Lord's Supper. This, and the late re-flowering of eucharistic prayers in recent Lutheran hymnals, got me thinking. Here is what I thought:

Folks well versed in The Lutheran Hymnal are not accustomed to any prayer between the Preface and the distribution of the Sacrament other than the Our Father. This may not be the only historic, Lutheran practice. But it seems very appropriate that the only prayer held up in the eucharistic liturgy be the one taught by Christ Himself. This might at least combat our habit of focusing on our own thoughts, words, and deeds as the end-all and be-all. We come with nothing the Lord has not given us.

Besides, the petitions of the Lord's Prayer can be interpreted in light of the Lord's Supper. The first three petitions - "Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done" - are a threefold doxology. This is pure praise and worship to the Triune God: addressed to the Father, in the words of the Son, and breathed out by a faith that is the Holy Spirit's gift. We have the right to call God our Father because Christ has made us His children. So it is our place to offer these praises to God. He has put His name on us in Baptism, made us heirs of His kingdom, and taken our hearts captive to His will through the Spirit-filled Word.

And while we glorify His name, rule, and will, we also pray. We pray that none of our sinful failings should sully His name in the world; and that no doctrine devised by men should take the place of His Word among us. We pray that no other allegiance may divide us from His Kingdom, and no harm come to His church till He comes in His glory. We pray that no trick of the devil, trap of the world, or weakness of our flesh may frustrate His saving will for us, lest we be led astray by our own will or another.

All these petitions are useful as we approach the Lord's Supper. For here we do not want unrepented sins or false teachings to give offense. Here we come to commune with Christ and His saints throughout His timeless kingdom. And here we taste of God's saving will in the body once broken and the blood once poured on Calvary.

The last three petitions of the Lord's Prayer are all alike: pleas for protection. We pray for protection against the guilt of our sins ("forgive us"). We ask for protection against temptation ("lead us not"). And we beg for protection against all the powers of evil ("deliver us.") These petitions, too, resonate most powerfully in the hour of the Lord's Supper. For in this Supper we receive God's absolute forgiveness. We receive the presence of Christ in our members to combat sin and temptation. And finally, we receive the "medicine of immortality" to put us out of the reach of the devil forever.

I hardly need to point out how the central petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," applies to the Lord's Supper. We live not by bread alone, but by God's Word; in Christ that Word assumes the body of a man; and in the Lord's Supper, that body comes to us as bread. We are eating the Word become flesh, the flesh that is food indeed and not merely a figurative "bread of life come down." Even if we should lose all the other necessities of bodily life, even if we should come to the point of starvation, God will never deprive us of this one precious thing: His body, the bread once given for the life of the world!

And even if our souls are oppressed by the darkest misery, God will never stint in giving us His cup of blessing, in which His blood is the wine. Such is His overflowing kindness that He goes beyond the daily bread for which we ask, and the bare survival that it affords. Let us lift up our hearts with joy to Him whose blood runs freely and abundantly, like the choicest vintage at a wedding feast, like strong wine on the lees. Not only does He give us life in the midst of death; He gives rejoicing in the midst of sorrow. So great is His goodness that we cannot do it justice with words. We can at best, perhaps, repeat the doxology that has become fixed to the prayer He gave us; we can ascribe to Him the kingdom, power, and glory from eternity to eternity.

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