O Lord God, You led Your ancient people through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
I do not mean to be flippant, especially since this is the first week of Lent, and we are supposed to be seriously penitential, but did you snort as well when you read that first line of this prayer? As a university professor, I preached at a lot of Lutheran parishes. I know the author of this prayer meant God’s people from long ago, but seriously, most of the parishes I preach in have been largely populated by ancient people. The grey and balding heads far outnumber the lush and dark-haired youths. Ancient people might be best understood a present reality.
But we may want to take this another step. Is God leading ancient Lutherans like me through a wilderness right now, an inhospitable landscape which cannot really nourish us? Are we dependent upon the gifts of God in a new way because the cultural and societal nourishment that once filled our parishes and made our Christian walk far more comfortable has dried up? The prayer seems to take us in that direction. It asks God to guide us through the wilderness of the world to the glory of the world to come. It is important to remember that the people of Israel regularly grumbled about their wilderness fare. It was prison food, after all. It kept them alive, but they longed for the food of Egypt. The church in North America today acutely feels the loss of its prestige, popularity, and place in the larger culture. The world looks a lot more wilderness-like than it did fifty years ago. But remember, as the prayer does, God has a long track record of leading folks through wilderness. Trust Him. This is nothing that He cannot handle.