Thursday, October 3, 2019

Praying the night prayers of the Church. . .

Truly one of the most profound additions to the Lutheran repertoire of offices is Evening Prayer. It is in my mind the most beloved office of the night hours, even better, I think than Vespers.

Evening Prayer lives in the shadow of the Old Testament and its rhythm of prayer in the morning and the evening hours. “When you lie down and when you arise,” says the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:7). This pattern was not unknown to our Lord Himself, and represents the very pattern of His life with His apostles. Within the New Testament church the people of God continued this daily rhythm so that the day began and ended with a sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving to God. As time went on this daily rhythm became more complicated and ordered, not simply morning and evening but in a detailed order of daily prayer of the hours which became the norm in the monastery and duplicated where possible (especially in a cathedral setting). Luther's piety was shaped by this beat of prayer and prayer offices and directed morning and evening prayer within the home. “In the morning/evening when you rise/retire, make the sign of the cross and say...” (Small Catechism vii).

The liturgy of Evening Prayer, has a simple, four-part shape: Service of Light, Psalmody, Readings and Responses, and Prayers. The Service of Light (lucernarium) recalls the time when life was truly governed by sunrise and sunset, when light was precious and the lighting of the tapers was a sacred act. The Phos hilaron is a third-century hymn of praise to Christ the Light. The Psalter, hymnal and prayerbook of both Old and New Testament, marks the night with Psalm 141. With incense and uplifted hands, the people of God come before the Lord with the prayers of a priestly people whose very vocation includes intercession. Incense was associated with forgiveness but is profoundly connected to the sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving (Exodus30). Incense, prayer and praise are the thanksgiving sacrifices the duty and delight of God’s saints (Malachi1:1). With the prayers we uplift to God, at His very invitation, our prayers on behalf of ourselves and all people and through this commendation of prayer our hearts are set at rest and we are prepared for a life of service to God that is always preceded by the rest of the night, in peace, quietness, and dignity. We are called by God to pray for “everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2 ). In the midst of it all is the hymn the Church has sung through the ages, echoing the words of Blessed Mary, Mother of our Lord. Evening Prayer concludes with a hymn of thanksgiving “for all the blessings of the light.” Those who have heard the Word of the Lord leave for the rest with the peace of the Lord on their lips and in their hearts.

Hidden within the night prayers, especially Compline, is not only the remembrance of Christ the Light in the hours of darkness but the connection between darkness and death. The commendation of the supplicant to the Lord is hours. "Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit./Into Your hands I commend my spirit. You have redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth./Into Your hands I commend my spirit. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit./Into Your hands I commend my spirit." This becomes even more obvious in Compline with its antiphon at the Nunc Dimittis, "Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace." And the collects, don't forget the wonderful collects. Among them,
Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of life may find our rest in You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Other collects are prayed.

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in Your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of Your only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Within the night prayers, we entrust ourselves to the care of our Lord, whose grace alone lead us through the darkness and the valley of the shadow of death. May the Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. Amen. and Amen.

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I have an ESV Bible in my night table, which I purchased through CPH. It contains the remarks of Luther in the introduction, and the Catechism, as well as the various prayers, like the evening prayer you mentioned. It is a fine prayer, and it incorporates the essentials.I wish more LCMS pastors would speak about these things during sermons.