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Back to the Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer

August 2, 2017 No Comment

This article reflects on the section of Luther’s Small Catechism dealing with The Lord’s Prayer. Read the relevant portion online in contemporary English here.

Teach Us to Pray

by Edward G. Kettner

Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray. Woodcut from the 1558 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism.

The Lord’s Prayer is the third part of Luther’s Catechism. We have heard what God would have us do and leave undone, and seen how far short we fall in keeping them. We confess faith in the God who has created us, redeemed us in Christ, and called us to faith through the preaching of the Good News. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer our Lord gave to his disciples, those who believe in Him, when they asked Him to teach them how to pray. He said, “When you pray, pray like this.” Thus not only is the Lord’s Prayer a prayer that the church has prayed ever since our Lord gave it to us; it is the prayer that serves as a model for all of our prayers.

It has been said that our worship is nothing else than saying back to God what He has said to us. That certainly is the case with the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray for those things that God would have us trust Him for.

The prayer opens with the words by which Jesus invites us to pray: “Our Father.” While God is indeed our Father by virtue of being our creator, the invitation to call God our Father comes from Jesus, who refers to God both as His Father and ours. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus refers to God’s relationship to His disciples as “your heavenly Father.” This clearly shows that God is our Father by virtue of faith in Christ’s work for us. Only Christ’s disciples, that is, only Christians, have the right to call God “Father.” Thus, we can pray confidently, knowing that God has our best interests at heart.

The first three petitions deal with God and with the coming of His Kingdom into the world. When God’s Kingdom comes, His name is hallowed among His people, and His will, namely the spread of His Kingdom throughout the world, takes place. Luther notes in his explanations to these petitions that these things all happen without our prayer, but we pray that they may happen among us also.

The next four petitions focus on how God deals with us and would have us deal with one another in our lives. In asking for daily bread we pray that God would give us “all that we need to support this body and life.” Luther lists all the blessings he mentioned in his explanation to the first article of the Creed along with many more. While the immediate context of the giving of the Prayer does not refer to Christ’s body given under the bread in the Lord’s Supper, the use of the Prayer in conjunction with the consecration of the elements reminds us that in the end Christ Himself is the true Bread of Life.

The prayer for forgiveness and for the grace to forgive in the fifth petition shows us that we forgive because we have first been forgiven, and that the more we recognize our need for forgiveness, the more easily we respond by forgiving others. The sixth petition, that we not be led into temptation, asks that God would give us the power to resist the enticements of world, flesh, and devil, and be preserved in the midst of those temptations. The final petition, that we be delivered from evil, or more precisely the evil one, asks that God preserve us in this life until it comes to an end and until Christ returns for us.

The prayer for forgiveness and for the grace to forgive in the fifth petition shows us that we forgive because we have first been forgiven, and that the more we recognize our need for forgiveness, the more easily we respond by forgiving others.

The concluding doxology to the prayer does not seem to have been a part of the prayer as Jesus gave it, and is not found in the earliest New Testament manuscripts. It is best understood as the church’s response of praise to the God who sent His Son to redeem us and who will preserve His Kingdom, power, and glory forever. The final Amen is a declaration on the part of the Church that we affirm all of this to be true.

In all of this, we remember that God gives all these things to us even without our prayer. We pray that these things might be done among us. So our prayer not only asks God to give us what He has promised to give us; it also calls to mind the promise of God that He will give these things to us, thus enabling us to pray confidently to our heavenly Father. God grant this to us all!

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Rev. Dr. Edward G. Kettner is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Concordia Lutheran Seminary (Edmonton).

This article is the third in a series exploring the six chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. See them all (as they are published) here.