An old joke goes this way: A Lutheran castaway is showing his rescuers around the island where he has been stranded for years. Pointing to various structures he built from bamboo and other local materials, he comments, “That’s my house. This is my garage. And here is my church.” When asked to identify an abandoned hut hidden further in the jungle, he replies, “Oh, that’s the church I used to belong to.”
I considered this joke as I discovered a connection between denominations through a common prayer.
In my own experience, a Methodist and Roman Catholic got married and raised their children in the Lutheran church. “The church I used to belong to” (as the joke goes) was Methodist. From what little I had witnessed of Roman Catholic protocol, our new Lutheran worship seemed very similar in structure and content to my wife’s church services. Much of the Lutheran service is derivative of the Roman Catholic experience, but with an openness and simplicity that had immediate appeal to both of us.
At family gatherings through the years, a prayer of thanks has always preceded meals with my in-laws. A bit of research shows that the prayer used in our family is a widely known bit of verbiage among the Roman Catholic faithful: “Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
My father-in-law often spoke these words, much like a chant, in his deep Chicago cop voice. I sat respectful and silent as I learned what he was saying, which was made more challenging by the speed at which the words were issued, a multisyllabic monotone followed by the sign of the cross.
Future generations in our family will enjoy the short video footage taken at our wedding, where the father-of-the-bride approached the microphone to say a prayer before our meal. Not known for his communicative abilities, and most likely nervous in front of 225 guests, his deep voice boomed out like a cannon:
Amen, and pass the chicken.
Years later during our Lutheran Sunday service we reached the offertory prayer. Setting five had just come into rotation, so particular attention was being paid to a change in content. The lead-in to the old standard words was lovely and new. But there they were, spoken by the congregation, as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans: “God our provider, you have not fed us with bread alone, but with words of grace and life. Bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Martin Luther took us on a ride down a bold new path paved with grace and humility. But sprinkled in the Lutheran experience are some traditions that hearken back to the church to which we used to belong. They bind us as fellow believers on a journey to a common destination. If only we could overcome the differences that distance us and take the journey more closely aligned, together enjoying the gifts “from thy bounty.” It’s no joke.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers