On Ash Wednesday we're knee deep in our sinfulness contemplating the certainty of our mortality. So many, so thick the ashes we can't breath. When that happens to someone physically, the remedy is to get air into their lungs. Same is true spiritually, and that's what we're praying for when we say, "Thy Kingdom come." The 'trick' is to see that praying the petition is not what does that. Thinking that way, makes prayer a means of getting God's grace which it's not. It's your means of asking not His means of giving.
One thing for sure: we're absolutely out of breath. The kingdom of the Devil, the World, and our Flesh are on the march. We read tonight that Jesus celebrates the last Passover and then the first Lord's Supper with His brutal, ugly crucifixion bearing down on Him. The Passion Reading has Jesus introducing this wonderful OT Church festival meal with, "'As you know, the Passover is two days away--and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified'" (Mt. 26:2). Luke tells us Satan's already marched into Judas even before John tells us on Munday Thursday, "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him." Lk. 22 says, "Then Satan entered Judas.., one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus." The kingdom is under siege in the upper room. Jesus tells them authoritatively, "One of you will betray Me." They all say it can't be me. Then, after the holiest Meal ever, the disciple fight about greatness. Some kingdom! The King's words are ignored and His subjects fight!
The kingdom of God is besieged in our day. Luther explains under this petition that the kingdom is "weak, despised, and few" (LW, 43, 187). You don't think so? Think again. 2/3's of the world isn't Christian. 66% of the world, the majority of the world doesn't believe the kingdom you pray to come even exists. At one time Christian churches were the world's time keepers. That passed in America to town squares, then to banks, and now the time keeper is big tech: Amazon, Meta, Alphabet, and Apple. In this post-Christian era where only 1/3 of the world is Christian, that third is as Christians have sung since 1866 "By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed" (TLH 473:4). And since 1837 we've sung, "Crumbled have spires in every land" (TLH 467:1).
If you're an observing, thinking, sensitive Christian, what has happened in this 21st century to you is the equivalent of explosive decompression at 33,000 feet. We all think that if that happens we'd casually put on the mask that drops from the ceiling. We don't realize that there will be no air even in our lungs and we'll have just 3-4 seconds before passing out. Another pastor told me of attending to a young boy killed by a shotgun blast. There was not a mark on the boy's body as he lay dead in the emergency room. His thick clothing had stopped the birdshot. But the blast had knocked all the air out of him and paralyzed him long enough to take his life. That's us. The march of the Devil's, the World's, and our Flesh's kingdom has stomped the breath out of us, and where's the air?
What breathes new life into us is not our praying, "Thy kingdom come." It's God in Christ. When you have no air in your lungs and either you're in a vacuum or you've stopped trying to breath, the answer has to come from outside. The answer isn't breath harder, deeper, faster. That's called hyperventilating. So what a relief to remember under this petition that "the kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer." Luther is unique here. He differs from all the interpretations of the Second Petition before him, in that he bases the kingdom of God in the Gospel (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 83). The kingdom of God comes to us. Contrary to the evangelism movements of the 1940s onward: we don't establish it, built it, or grow it. We pray for it to come to us.
Physical life came to Adam by God breathing into him. Read Genesis 2:7, "The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." By giving Adam the gift of life, the Lord enabled him to pass on physical life first to Eve and then with Eve to everyone else. That's what Genesis 3:20 says, "Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living." Before the Fall physical life was spiritual life, but Adam sinned and made the disconnect. Everyone after Adam and Eve may be born physically alive but we're all spiritually dead. We walk about as the living dead, physically alive but spiritually dead.
As physical life had to be breathed into Adam, so now spiritual life. Come with me to Easter evening. There we read in John 20 of the upper room: The resurrected Jesus appears there saying, "'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.' And with that He breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven'" (21-23). As the Lord breathed on Adam enabling him to pass on physical life, so the Lord breathed on the disciples and created an office able to pass on His Holy Spirit, new Spiritual life. 1 Cor. 15:45 makes this connection: " So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving Spirit.'"
Having trouble catching your breath? Seem like there's no air to breath? Everything outside of God's good grace and Spirit is noxious. It's the stink of Death out there; the odor of Devil and decaying Flesh. In vain do we try to get a fresh breath from the news, politics, medicine, or technology. In vain do we try to get fresh air from entertainment, booze, hobbies, love. Thanks be to God then: "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity." His Kingdom comes to you not when you feel it, see it, think it but when you believe your Baptism is a lifegiving water rich in Grace; when you believe absolution sends your sins away in Jesus' name; when you believe that on this Altar is the same Body Jesus gave over unto death on the cross and the same Blood He shed there, here for you to eat and drink heaven's air.
Now there's a breath of fresh air! Breathe deep this grace that forgives sins and lifts spirits by the Holy Spirit coming to you in Word and Sacrament. But think like a kid. When kids are going to do something they consider adventurous, exciting, wonderful, they will say sometime with all the exuberance of youth, "You come too." That's what we are asking our Father in heaven to do in this petition. "You come too." But, like the 4th petition, 'Give us this day our daily bread', is a reminder to us not God that He provides daily bread, so here we're reminded He comes too. Our Father in heaven whose very name is holy, deigns to come with us now. His kingdom comes now in hospital rooms, funeral homes, sick rooms, panic rooms. He comes where no god would, could go before.
Why? Because this is the kingdom the Man who is God died for. He stormed the gates of Hell, of Death and Devil and reestablished a kingdom on earth. Augustine points out that Jesus before Pilate doesn't say "My kingdom is not in the world" but "My kingdom is not of this world" (Christianity and Classical Culture, 510). Christ came proclaiming, "The kingdom of God is here, has arrived." We're praying in this petition that it may come to us also. We want to breathe heaven's air on earth. Paul points us in this direction saying in Romans 14:17. " The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
In the midst of this fallen world, breathe the righteousness, i.e. the holiness of God's Kingdom. In the midst of fightings within and fears without take a deep breath of the peace that Jesus won for sinners by His holy life and guilty death in your place. Jesus says in the upper room we're in tonight marked by ashes, mourning our sins: "'I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world'" (Jn 16:33). Inhale holiness, peace, and joy. Inhale the joyous fact that your Father in heaven comes to you on earth. And He does this right now. Can you see this in the Passion Reading?
Right now? Yes, here in time. That's what we confess in our Catechism. We ask, "How does God Kingdom come?" And we answer, "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity." You know what lures people to contemporary Christian music, church, worship, Bible study? The good vibrations and practical tips for living. Well, a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy coming to you seems to me is a rush of good feelings, and the fact His kingdom comes in time puts a whole 'nother spin on living today.
Jesus says in the upper room, "For I tell you, I will not eat the Passover again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." Communion is the fulfillment of Passover. The real Passover Lamb is present having been sacrificed once and for all. Where else but Communion does Jesus drink wine "anew with you" in His Father's kingdom? Look what Jesus said Maundy Thursday night almost 2,000 years ago: "And I confer on you a kingdom, just as My Father conferred one on Me, so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Do you think that Kingdom has yet to come? Rev. 20 says all Christians reign with the King now.
Read a book, watch a show depicting monarchies either ancient, medevial, or modern. How different life is for those in the throne room of the king and those outside. Are you in or out? With this petition, we're all in. Our Father who is in heaven give us His Holy Spirit and we exhale the petition, "Thy Kingdom come." And it does in the King's Words and Sacraments breathing into us everlasting life so that we exhale righteousness, peace, and joy now. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Ash Wednesday (20220302); Second Petition, Passion Reading 1