So, what does one do with a Home Altar? Good Question. At church, our altars are usually the direction we face when offering our prayers. They also serve as the table from which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. While Scripture places the celebration of the Lord’s Supper into the hands of the clergy, we all are called upon to pray. In fact, Luther, when writing a preface to a collection of his works being published in Wittenberg (1539) pointed out that the best way to learn theology is through reading Scripture, praying (oratio), meditation (meditatio), and struggles or trials (tentatio).
He wasn’t trying to be morbid or anything like that. Rather, he was trying to bring the best of the prayer traditions of the early church into the lives of the everyday man and woman and child. Just think about it. How do we learn best? It’s through practice and failure. The frustration of making mistakes and becoming aware of our ingrained habits that mess up our ability to grow has as much to do with our development as our figuring out ‘how to get it right’. That’s the whole point about trials or struggles that Luther was talking about.
True, biblically, we are reminded that we are all born broken and bent out of shape due to sin. It’s not just a moral brokenness, but reaches into the very depths of our being so that we can’t really see it clearly. Only God can do that – and this is why we need to constantly return to the Scriptures in order to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and lead us and show us these things. But the Scriptures also point us to Christ who came to take onto Himself our brokenness and the penalty for our sin, all to give us life – His Life in exchange.
That’s the big picture within which we have been placed on the day we were baptized. That’s the big picture that we are called upon to bring to mind daily (making the sign of the cross) so that through prayer and meditation, Our Lord Himself comes to do His work of breaking down our ingrained habits of sin and brokenness, all to reshape and reframe our lives through His Word and the Sacraments.
So, what do we do at our Home Altar? We pray. Use Luther’s morning and evening prayers – individually or as a family – to reset your day in the context of prayer. If you have a Hymnal at home, use the short orders for Daily Prayer to do the same. Sing a hymn. Confess your brokenness. Read Scripture, meditate on a section of the Catechism. All good things to do. And as a way to help set up your altar space, hang a cross (or make one from broken branches). Put up a picture of Jesus. Even include a small candle to light during times of prayer so that you can watch the flame and smoke point us upwards to heaven. And let that all be reminder that Jesus has already carried our sins, our worries, our sicknesses, and everything that is part of our broken world to the cross and He receives our prayers with joy – promising to be with us as our strength for each day.
In the photo above, I’ve included some useful books to draw on as a part of your home devotions. There’s always more – of course – that could be suggested; but these are good starting places. Most, if not all, should be available through Amazon for quick delivery. Take a look. I’ll suggest more as time goes on. Spend time reading them, reflecting on the Scriptures, and learning to let go of your struggles all to rest in the blessing of Christ our Lord.