Needy People Need Double Amens
Luther never commented on the doxology part of the conclusion. He translated it in his Bible but omitted it in his catechisms (Kolb, 358, fn. 76). The first century Didache does have "'for Thine is the power and glory'". The present form of the doxology doesn't appear till the 8th century (Girgensohn, 250). None of the Latin copies have it and no Latin writers comment on it. All Greek copies, however, do have it (Chemnitz, Lord's Prayer, 95).
Luther focuses all his attention on the word amen', and this could be considered controversial if you think the modern translations are more accurate than the KJV because none of them keep the amen' without qualification. More controversial still, though, is the modern view of prayer. The March 13, 1935 "Christian" magazine Christian Century said that "views about God and the nature of the universe have changed. Our changed ideas of God make it impossible for us to believe in the efficacy of our prayers as we once did" (Acker, Teach us to Pray, 75). Luther by contrast said we are to be doubly certain. Needy people need that.
Needy people can be certain about their prayers because God commands them. God commands prayer saying in Christ, "You must ask, seek, knock." Actually, these are what is known as policy commands in Greek. So, properly it's "make it your continual policy to always be asking, seeking, and knocking." And God especially commands prayer in time of trouble. People often criticize such prayers as "foxhole" religion or rather than a "fair-weather friend," a "foul-weather Christian". But God commands such prayers. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble" (Ps. 50:15).
Prayer is commanded by God; that's why needy people dare do it, and why no Christian dare not. Prayer is not a take it or leave it proposition. You can no more be a living Christian and not pray than you can be a living body and not breathe. You know how they drum in to you the signs of medical problems like heart attack and stroke? There are signs of spiritual problems. If you're neglecting praying, soon you will be awkward in prayer. And this will give way to inability to pray and finally to unwillingness to pray (Quest for Holiness, 183) which is being spiritual dead.
Because the disciples were neglectful of the command to keep on praying, they are where they are in tonight's Passion Reading. Peter and James are nowhere to be found. They were commanded in Gethsemane twice to "watch and pray" that they might not enter into temptation. John was also there, but he is still at the cross. Still watching and praying. I have no idea what is going through John's mind right now. I only know that he doesn't stand by the crucified Jesus in His own strength. I also know none of us can or will either. Every one of us is going to be faced with our own little Gethsemanes where "watch and pray that you enter not into temptation" will be the Lord's watchword to us.
As much as needy people need the bald command: You must pray, so we need the bold promise, "and you will be heard." The Lord doesn't just command ask, seek, knock, but promises you will be answered, you will find, and it will be opened unto you. He doesn't just command you to call upon Him in the day of trouble, He promises, "and I shall deliver you." Actually, He promises more than that. "Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear" (Is. 65:24), He promises.
Luther's original Small Catechism had woodcuts for each section. It taught in pictures what he emphasized with words. For the conclusion is a woodcut of the Canaanite woman pleading for her daughter. This is the incident where Jesus doesn't just say "no" but ignores, snubs, and insults her. Everything about Jesus' attitude is no, no, no, yet this pagan woman persists in continuing to pray. How much more so we who are promised that we shall be heard?
The Passion of Jesus is filled with promises about prayer. Twice in the upper room Jesus promises without exception to answer prayer: "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (Jn. 14:14). "I tell you the truth, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name" (Jn. 16:23). And our Passion Reading tonight contains Jesus' most famous answer to prayer. The dying thief prays, "Jesus remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus answers immediately, "I tell you the truth, today you shall be with me in paradise" (Lk. 23:43).
Brothers and sisters of Jesus are promised that they are heard and answered unconditionally because every reason God ever had for turning a deaf ear to your cries or a blind eye to your pain or a hard heart to your turmoil is on the back of the holy, innocent, Lamb of God. May we get this through our head and heart. We are not heard and answered because our pain, need, grief, fear is so great but because Jesus' was. In fact, "Whenever our prayer is founded on itself or something else [other than Jesus], it is false and deceptive, even though it wrings your heart with its intense devotion or weeps sheer drops of blood" (LW, 42, 89).
Luther said that, and it's in agreement with what we know about the ancient church prayer practices. It's true that the practice of folding one's hands for prayer dates to the 5th century A.D., but it is "purely of Saxon origin" (The Temple, 167, fn. 2). And in this posture, I have always felt turned in on myself especially when intensely praying. Luther thought gestures improved praying. He had the custom of bowing and kneeling and saying out loud his prayer every evening with a bare head before an open window (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 31, fn. 182). The ancient church prayed standing or kneeling. The only posture thought fitting for Sunday and feast days was standing. The general custom of all ancient worshippers was to pray with their eyes, arms, and hands raised toward heaven. "They were not introverts probing their inner selves in prayer" (Church from Age to Age, 118) or listening for an answer there.
In Luther's conclusion to the Lord's Prayer the focus is right where needy people like us need it. Not on us, but Jesus. Remember the only word Luther explains is amen.' And he roots our saying it in the command and promise of God. We are to be certain that every single one of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer are pleasing to the Father and are heard by Him. Why? "Because He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us." Then he defines amen' as "Yes, yes, it shall be so."
Where does Luther get the double yes" from? He gets it straight from the lips of Jesus. As far as I know, he is the only one to do this. Jesus is the only who begins sentences sometimes with one amen' sometimes with two. King James translates this "verily, verily." Modern translations sometimes have "truly, truly" or even "yes, yes." The point is that in the upper room when Jesus promises our prayers will be heard he literally says, "Amen, amen, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name." And when Jesus promises that miserable thief dying with a lifetime of sin behind him and certain death in front of him, paradise, He says, "Amen, to you I say today you will be with Me in paradise."
Our saying Amen!' yes, yes, it shall be so, is based on Jesus' way of speaking. Only Jesus speaks this way. This is a particular characteristic of God's speech in human words and grammar. It's other worldly speech. It's divine speech. Regrettably, we all think it's a characteristic of King James Elizabethan English. No, the King James' weirdness to our ears is conveying the peculiar nature of God's Words to human ears. And what we are to take away from this is how certain God would have us be about our praying of the petitions He gives us.
When we pray we are not to be looking at our worthiness, our sins, our feeble believing, or our doubt-plagued souls. We are to be looking at Jesus. His prayer while dying totally innocent is for us, "Father forgive them." If He can pray that for the men pounding the nails into His holy flesh, then be doubly certain He prays that for you. If in the midst of pain no one can even imagine; under guilt that would crush the life out of anyone; with naked shame that we die just thinking of Jesus remembers His mom, do you think that now that His suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying are past, He has forgotten you moms, dads, and kids?
O that we may pray as adults as we did as kids. O may we believe that we don't have to put a certain about of energy behind our prayers to get them all the way to heaven. No, no. The truth of the matter is that God's ear is as close to your lips as His Words in Water, in Bread, in Wine are to your ears. Yes, yes, it shall be so because while you and I do give up our childlike faith, Jesus doesn't. Even after being forsaken by God for sins we did but He didn't do, Jesus still believes He's heard by His Father. So, as easily, as sincerely as you prayed, "Now I lay me down to sleep. If I should die before I awake, I pray the Lord my soul to take," Jesus prayed at death not to a generic, Almighty God but to His Father, "Father, into Your hands I commend My Spirit."
Have you noticed when praying the Lord's Prayer that the words "Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory" have the emphasis? They do when I pray it, and that's fitting. Every petition we make be it for His name, His kingdom, His will, or our daily bread, our forgiveness, our temptability, or our deliverance is made in the light of His eternal kingdom, power, and glory. Inside of these, we're no longer praying in the pressure of the moment and with the shortsightedness of momentary distress but rather we are praying in the light of eternity (Thielicke, Our Heavenly Father, 156).
You know those times of prayer, no matter how fleeting, when you're outside of you, of what you can think or even imagine? You're just a child standing before your dear Father asking with all boldness and confidence for anything and everything that tends to His glory and your eternal salvation. "Say amen' to those times," right? No, say, Amen, amen, that is yes, yes, it shall be so. For that's exactly how you're invited to pray. That's how Jesus paid for you to be able to pray. And no "new" understanding of God or His universe is going to get in the way of needy people so praying. Amen, Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Midweek VI (20180321); Lord's Prayer Conclusion; Passion Reading 6