Sunday, June 15, 2008

Our Father in Heaven

Martin Luther has given us several different ways to take the Lord’s Prayer to heart, including the Large and Small Catechisms as well as his booklet for Master Peter the Barber on A Simple Way to Pray. Here is one more example how Luther sought to bring an understanding of the Lord’s Prayer to the people as he used it in the Divine Service as found in his German Mass translated in the American edition of his works, vol. 53, p. 78.

After the sermon shall follow a public paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer and admonition for those who want to partake of the sacrament, in this or a better fashion:

Friends in Christ: Since we are here assembled in the name of the Lord to receive his Holy Testament, I admonish you first of all to lift up your hearts to God to pray with me the Lord’s Prayer, as Christ our Lord has taught us and graciously promised to hear us.

That God, our Father in heaven, may look with mercy on us, his needy children on earth, and grant us grace so that his holy name be hallowed by us and all the world through the pure and true teaching of his Word and the fervent love of our lives; that he would graciously turn from us all false doctrine and evil living whereby his precious name is being blasphemed and profaned.

That his kingdom may come to us and expand; that all transgressors and they who are blinded and bound in the devil’s kingdom be brought to know Jesus Christ his Son by faith, and that the number of Christians may be increased.

That we may be strengthened by his Spirit to do and to suffer his will, both in life and in death, in good and in evil things, and always to break, slay, and sacrifice our own wills. That he would also give us our daily bread, preserve us from greed and selfish cares, and help us to trust that he will provide for all our needs.

That he would forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors so that our hearts may rest and rejoice in a good conscience before him, and that no sin may ever fright or alarm us.

That he would not lead us into temptation but help us by his Spirit to subdue the flesh, to despise the world and its ways, and to overcome the devil with all his wiles.

And lastly, that he would deliver us from all evil, both of body and soul, now and forever.

All those who earnestly desire these things will say from their very hearts: Amen, trusting without any doubt that it is Yea and answered in heaven as Christ has promised: Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you shall receive it, and you will [Mark 11:24]. Amen.

Secondly, I admonish you in Christ that you discern the Testament of Christ in true faith and, above all, take to heart the words wherein Christ imparts to us his body and his blood for the remission of our sins. That you remember and give thanks for his boundless love which he proved to us when he redeemed us from God’s wrath, sin, death, and hell by his own blood. And that in this faith you externally receive the bread and wine, i.e., his body and his blood, as the pledge and guarantee of this. In his name therefore, and according to the command that he gave, let us use and receive the Testament.

Whether such paraphrase and admonition should be read in the pulpit immediately after the sermon or at the altar, I would leave to everyone’s judgment. It seems that the ancients did so in the pulpit, so that it is still the custom to read general prayers or to repeat the Lord’s Prayer in the pulpit. But the admonition itself has since become a public confession. In this way, however, the Lord’s Prayer together with a short exposition would be current among the people, and the Lord would be remembered, even as he commanded at the Supper.

I would, however, like to ask that this paraphrase or admonition follow a prescribed wording or be formulated in a definite manner for the sake of the common people. We cannot have one do it one way today, and another, another way tomorrow, and let everybody parade his talents and confuse the people so that they can neither learn nor retain anything. What chiefly matters is the teaching and guiding of the people. That is why here we must limit our freedom and keep to one form of paraphrase or admonition, particularly in a given church or congregation — if for the sake of freedom it does not wish to use another.

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