Friday, November 12, 2010

A Model Prayer

Once upon a time, if memory serves me well, the practice in the church I served was to pray the Lord’s Prayer at the end of what we called the “Prayer of Adoration” (also known as the “Prayer of the Day” or “Opening Prayer”).

That always seemed to me to be a reasonable placement for a model prayer that Jesus left with his disciples. Placed at the beginning of the service, the Lord’s Prayer set a standard for other prayers to meet.

Jesus was in good rabbinical form when he said to them, “Pray then in this way…” (Matthew 6:9-13), or “When you pray, say…” (Luke 11:2-4). They wanted to learn how to pray, so he gave them a memorable example, a recipe for prayer with all the necessary ingredients.

Since the two versions we have of this brief prayer in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels show sufficient common traits to be kin, we can deduce that Jesus’ followers had already socked it away in their corporate memory. It was a model worth recalling as they sought God via more specific petitions.

Somewhere around the end of the first and beginning of the second century C.E., according to the Didache, the Lord’s Prayer was to be prayed three times a day. By then it had already become part of the daily prayer of the church, and its repetition established its reputation as the Model Prayer.

Somewhere along the way, however, in addition to modeling prayer, the Lord’s Prayer was inserted in the Lord’s Day worship at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. According to Gregory the Great (c.598 C.E.), the reason was that it was the Apostles’ custom to consecrate the sacrifice of the offering by this prayer alone, and it seemed inappropriate to say words crafted by a scholar and ignore what Jesus himself had handed down.

Also, I suspect, the petition of the Lord’s Prayer for “daily bread” must have resonated with the breaking and sharing of bread immediately following the Eucharistic prayer, and so it seemed meet and right to be recited then.

The BCW locates the Lord’s Prayer at that point, without comment, as did previous Presbyterian worship books. In the Daily Prayer services, the Lord’s Prayer is similarly placed at the end of the prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession.

This placement, universal as it may be, seems to change the character and usefulness of the Lord’s Prayer, in that it is given a specific, and more limited, focus than it might have as a model prayer. Its strong connection to the Eucharist zeroes in on the verbal coincidence of “bread” so that other possible connections for it all but fade away.

An argument can be made to locate the Lord’s Prayer at the very beginning of the service, perhaps as the concluding part of the Opening Prayer or Prayer of the Day. Such placement might strengthen the Lord’s Prayer as a model to give guidance and inspiration to all prayers.

Or, the Lord’s Prayer could be introduced briefly and then prayed in unison, with the Prayer of the Day inserted before the ascription, “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.” (The ascription is actually not part of the Prayer as the Lord is said to have given it.)

Standing at the opening of worship, the Lord’s Prayer has a more directive posture and serves to make the people liturgically alert to all the prayers that follow.

In your experience, either on Sunday morning or in daily prayer, have you used the Lord’s Prayer at times other than as indicated in the BCW?

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