September 29, 2020

The Pastor: Prepared by the Lord’s Prayer

St-Peter-healing-a-cripple-and-the-raising-of-Tabitha-1427-xx-Tommaso-Masolino-da-Panicale

The Healing of the Cripple and the Raising of Tabitha, Masolino

 Let the pastors of the assemblies know this priesthood of the assembly on behalf of the world. Let them know with sympathy and love how they are not distinguished here from the rest of humanity, but are rather a voice of need and prayer. Let them thus know where they actually are and what time it is in the world. Let them see that an insertion in the actual local situation of their communities, a knowledge of the news, the ability to weep and laugh with real people, attention to such literature and film and other arts as honestly evoke current estimations of the human condition, awareness of the state of the local land and wildlife — all these are preparations for the assembly and its leadership, all of these are spiritual practices for the pastor, all of these accord with the spirituality of the Lord’s Prayer. Then, let the pastors also come to the assembly as beggars for the sake of themselves and the world. Let them not imagine their vestments or their ritual practice as anything else than an underlining of the significance of this prayer on behalf of the world. A pastor prepares to lead Christian liturgy by imagining, understanding, interiorizing this purpose of the assembly to be a priesthood for the world.

– Gordon Lathrop
The Pastor: A Spirituality

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613EHnHjnfL._SL1076_How should a pastor prepare to lead the congregation in worship?

For Gordon Lathrop, that question means: How should a pastor prepare to preside in the liturgy? In his book, The Pastor: A Spirituality, Lathrop primarily addresses ministers who serve liturgical traditions. And while I think any pastor could glean helpful insights from this book as one who leads in other ways in the congregation’s public gatherings, this book takes seriously the form of the traditional liturgy and the concept of presiding.

Lathrop suggests that the Lord’s Prayer is so central to the Church’s historic worship that it may be seen as a symbol for the liturgy itself. He recommends it as a primary text that can help presiders and congregations alike as they prepare for worship.

The communal form of the Lord’s Prayer (“us” not “me”) reminds us of the corporate nature of worship. Its familiar, simple words are one of the prime catechetical passages that were entrusted to our parents to teach us when we were baptized. When we bow together before communion we say its words as our table grace. The words of the Lord’s Prayer also give a defining shape to who we are as Christian assembly. We are people of the last days, sharers in God’s Kingdom, who long for, pray for, and work, by God’s Spirit, for its fulfillment in the world.

It is at this point that Gordon Lathrop says something exceedingly wise and challenging for ministers and their congregations:

According to this prayer, the community of Christians is, in very basic ways, just like everyone else — longing for God, in need of mercy, justice, and life, hopeful, fearful, likely to fail. Yet in two characteristics of its real assemblies — in shared bread and in mutual forgiveness — it trusts that God is already making it the assembly of the end time, the assembly around God’s promised life-giving feast for all the world.

I fear that many Christians view “worship” as a time to separate ourselves from the world, to conduct “family business,” to draw aside from the demands of life in order to experience a few moments of sanctuary and respite. We gather in our building, sing our songs, read from our book, come to our table. Here the language of Zion is spoken, the air of heaven inhaled. Sure, we may be challenged here to go back out and live as Christians in the world, but this appeal often carries with it unspoken assumptions about how different we are from our neighbors — They are the needy. We have the answers. We, having been recharged and refilled, will bring God to them!

There are elements of truth in all of this, but the simple fact is that the Lord’s Prayer will not allow us to stand apart from our neighbors. Rather: “By such a prayer,” Gordon Lathrop says, “Christians stand with all humanity, in its need and in its fear.  In such a prayer, the church exercises its priesthood for the world, making the ‘our’ and the ‘us’ of the petitions as broad as it can imagine.” In full sympathy with our neighbors, we give voice to a common hunger, a shared sense of guilt and reflex for vengeance, and fears we all have about the uncertain future and our ability to face it.

Cappella_brancacci,_Predica_di_San_Pietro_(restaurato),_Masolino

St. Peter Preaching (detail), Masolino

We pray as ordinary people in need and as people who bear the needs of others before God.

In the end, worship is about forgiveness and bread. This is how God’s kingdom comes and God’s will done on earth as in heaven.

In worship we gather to hear that word and come to that table — over and over again.

And when we gather, unless our hearts are hardened by self-righteous forgetfulness, we won’t be able to savor that which is given to us without remembering others who go hungry and naked.

When the pastor allows the Lord’s Prayer to seize his or her heart, when the minister’s own hunger, brokenness, and anxiety is felt, when the presider is reimmersed once more in the reality of God’s rule in Jesus Christ and in full identification with the neighbor in need, the pastor is prepared, ready to worship with the congregation.

Not ready because he or she has mastered a role, but because God’s grace has overwhelmed the heart and left a taste of bread and wine in the mouth.

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This is part two of a series on Gordon Lathrop’s book. Read part one of our meditations on The Pastor: A Spirituality:

The Pastor: Tasks, Titles, and Texts

Comments

  1. Not ready because he or she has mastered a role, but because God’s grace has overwhelmed the heart and left a taste of bread and wine in the mouth.

    And, that is the ground from which all “ministry” springs. Thank you CM.

  2. David Cornwell says

    This is good stuff Chaplain Mike, thanks.

    Harmon L. Smith makes the point that since prayer and liturgy are historically anterior to the Bible and everything else that grew up around early Christianity, that this prayer is basically a model or form not only for worship but that it presents a prototype for the Christian life itself.

  3. I have always loved the Latin phrase ‘libera nos a malo’ . . .
    but I am awed by the way the Lord’s Prayer was spoken in the Old English of a thousand years ago:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wl-OZ3breE

  4. I have heard that the early liturgy and worship of the Church helped the Councils to form the Canon of sacred Scripture in this way:

    if a Scripture was being used consistently in worship over time and also throughout the early Christian world, it gained a credibility as a part of what the Apostles passed down and the Church had carefully preserved . . .

    early liturgy and worship DO predate canon formation for sure, as a parent before a child

  5. Is the Lord’s Prayer out of style among baptists? In the 21 years I’ve been attending my church (ABC) I don’t think we’ve recited the prayer 10 times. No, really. It’s only once every few years or so, and not usually during the Sunday morning service.

    The congregational church where I was raised still recites it every Sunday, however.

    What’s going on?

    • I believe it may be in response to Matthew 6:7 “…do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do.” We attended SBC churches for 15 years or so and I don’t recall it being used. Personally, I often recite the Lord’s Prayer when I’m alone and want to reach out to God. But having said that, I must admit that all forms of corporate recitation (including the call and response the Baptists do use) make me uncomfortable. It feels artificial – not that singing hymns, which I love, is anything but recitation set to music. Of course this probably stems from growing up around and in a quite different tradition (Church of Christ).

  6. Hi TED,

    I have seen a huge variety of ‘reasons’ it is treated differently by Southern Baptists . . .

    the MOST reasonable was that they saw it as a ‘model’ for ‘how to pray’ rather than as an actual prayer to say . . .

    the LEAST reasonable was a ‘claim’ by someone who left the SBC that they don’t say it because of ‘once saved, always saved’ and there is no need for the part that goes:
    ‘forgive us our sins and we forgive those who trespass against us’ . . .
    I myself don’t see this as accurate from what I have learned about SBC folk.

    My own view is that they MAY know it through Bible study, but being a VERY exclusive denomination, they would never view the ‘Our’ and the ‘us’ in it the same way as Gordon Lathrop does in Chaplain Mike’s post.

    It’s a good thing to try to understand, but I just don’t see SBC folk as ‘dissing’ the Our Father. They just don’t ‘celebrate’ it liturgically, nor do many of them speak of using it in private prayer because it is a ‘fixed’ prayer, and they wish to pray to God less formally. I’m sure I don’t know enough to really understand ‘what’s going on’ with them and that prayer, though.