The Divine Service and Begging

Does anyone go to school to learn how to become a beggar?  Who wants to become a beggar?  No one.  But the truth is that because of the disaster of original sin, all men are spiritually destitute.  We are dead in sin.  (Ephesians 2).

Because our spiritual life and health depends on receiving from Christ, we exercise our faith by becoming beggars before God.  And that’s not easy for us who fancy that we are producers of spiritual goods and owners of spiritual gifts.  The place to begin learning to receive is our regular involvement in the Divine Service.  The classical order for the Service of Word and Sacrament puts us and keeps us in the position of beggars before God.  It invites us to join the company of holy beggars in four important places.

  • In the Kyrie, we begin our worship by approaching the risen Lord Jesus and crying, “Lord, have mercy!”
  • In the Gloria in Excelsis, we stand before God the Father, together with angels in the heavenly realm, and ask for Jesus to intercede for us with Him there.
  • In the Prayer of the Church, we beg for help from God the Father for the entire Church, the entire world, and all people in need in the name of Jesus.
  • But, most significantly, in the Agnus Dei, we come as beggars to Jesus, the host of our Holy Meal, to receive His peacemaking body and blood as food for our journey to heaven.

We best learn the art of begging from God, quite practically, by bringing ourselves and others, our needs and theirs, each week to Him in the Divine Service.

[Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today by John W. Kleinig, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2008 A.D., page 55.  Emphasis and bullet points added].

All of life, both physically and spiritually, is a continual reception from God.  God gives us life, and our lungs beg for air.  Our throats thirst for water.  Our stomachs hunger for food.  And our spirits long for the word of God.

Every complete exhalation (an emptying of ourselves) is a plea to inhale.  Every time we speak out and exhale the word of God, that is a plea to hear again and to be filled with the word of the Spirit.  The dead have no desires for these good blessings.  However, those alive in Christ receive these spiritual blessings and much more in abundance because they are beggars.  They are poor in spirit, so they ask.  And

everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  [Matthew 7:8-11].

Many enthusiastic church services are just talk.  But in the Divine Service we are intentionally put in the position of those who ask, who really ask, who beg.  When one asks a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar, they do not plead, “Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!”  In the Divine Service we do not ask for what we merely want, we beg for what we need.  We do not ask for what we can pay for, but rather we beg for that which we do not deserve.

The Divine Service puts us in the position of beggars.  But the greatest divine service is not just that we ask, but that we also receive.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:3-5).

Those who (by the grace of God) regularly plead for and receive mercy from the cross of Christ as their very life-blood will imbibe and internalize a theology deep and rich and rewarding and true.  This is more than just pure doctrine, it is true practice.  It is the practice of breathing and drinking and living the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He is the way, the truth, and the life.  (John 14:6).  He is our head and source of life who is to be praised forever.