This Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, and in the year when we are within the Gospel according to Luke, there is an interesting connection between the first Sunday in Epiphany and the Last Sunday.
In Luke 3:21, the text describes that Jesus had been baptized and was praying. In Luke 9:29, the text describes that Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. Jesus is praying at the beginning and middle of his ministry. Why make this connection to prayer?
The first way to answer that question is to say THAT is what happened—Jesus WAS praying at these two important times! That the other writers did not include this detail does NOT mean that it did NOT happen.
The second way to answer that question is to add that Jesus prayed at the beginning, middle, AND end of his ministry. Also unique to this gospel account is that, in Luke 22:44, Jesus was in an agony and ‘he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.’ Of course, this also happened.
The writer of the Gospel according to Luke did his homework (see Luke 1:1-4). And his emphasis, all through the account, is Jesus as the obedient worker, the workhorse, the ox.
Without that connection to prayer at the end of Jesus’ ministry, one might get the idea that the prayer was added as an example for us to follow. ‘If you want to be baptized and have it make a difference, then you should pray!’ ‘If you want God to change you, then you should pray!’ It seems almost ridiculous to say that, ‘If you are serious about prayer, you should pray until your sweat becomes like great drops of blood falling to the ground.’ We might as well give up now.
I think Martin Luther gives a much better perspective of prayer within his Large Catechism. In the section which introduces ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, he talks about the command to pray and the promise of God to respond to prayer. But in paragraph 22 he goes even further and talks about the extent of God’s care and concern. God gives us the words and the ways in which those words should be used. He lays in our mouths how and what we should pray. This, Luther says, shows God’s love and mercy for our situation. I will let Luther do the talking:
This [the Lord’s Prayer] is a great advantage indeed over all other prayers that we might compose ourselves. For in our own prayers the conscience would ever be in doubt and say, ‘I have prayed, but who knows if it pleases Him or whether I have hit upon the right proportions and form?’ Therefore, there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it daily [Matthew 6:11], because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it. We ought not to surrender this for all the riches of the world (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, page 411).
A prayer that starts within us easily comes to nothing. The command to pray is often fulfilled, and then it can easily come to nothing. The promise of an answer to prayer is often a wonderful motivator, but then it can easily come to nothing.
God laid on Jesus our sin. God lays upon us his compassion. God lays in our mouths what to say to him.