We have a beautiful and spacious building just one block from the university campus thanks to our generous congregation and the Iowa District East. We boast a huge student center with a game room, plenty of quiet study space, a washer and dryer, a student office with computer, printer and desk, rooms with dry erase boards, a community chest full of goodies, full kitchen, a respectable library, fresh coffee, comfy coaches, air conditioning, a good furnace, and the like. Yet, our building seemed awfully quiet many weekdays throughout the school year—quiet like the campus library, only worse, no one was here!
However, this year and perhaps a little last year, it has picked up a bit. Although I partly attribute this to our free wifi and comfy couches, I also have a few extra voices in the nave praying Matins each day! To be sure, it is only a handful of students, but it has brought life to our student center. Students are waking up to ride their bikes, drive their cars, and even walk to the church on weekday mornings to pray Matins.
It makes sense. Students already have so many of the other activities on campus. But, here they have a pastor and other like-minded Christians gathering to hear the words of eternal life and to pray. Far from endless prattling and empty words, it is the one thing needed and the good portion which was commended by our Lord (cf. St. Luke 10:42).
In the little booklet, An Explanation of the Common Service, the question is asked, “Did the Reformers favor the retention of [Matins and Vespers] ?” And the answer is given, “Yes, Luther commended them for he found nothing in them but the words of Scripture, and he regarded them as invaluable aids in teaching the Word of God. For this reason they are the most appropriate forms of devotion for use in the Schools, Colleges, and Seminaries” (73).
Matins is described here as the “most appropriate form of devotion” for use in Colleges and I concur. In my little experience over the last few years, it has been deeply edifying—even leading to much theological reflection and discussion with the students following the hearing of the Word. Yet, what is my experience compared to the promise of Christ?: “If you abide in my Word, truly you are my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (St. John 8:31b-32). The daily repetition and grounding in God’s Word of Truth (Jesus!) is needed to support the fragile faith in Christ that is battered about daily on campus!
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from your Son
And bring to naught all He has done. (LSB 655 v. 1)
Admittedly, I have deviated from Luther regarding the time of Matins. He suggested, “This was the custom among Christians at the time of the apostles and should also be the custom now. We should assemble daily at four or five in the morning and have [God’s Word] read… And although these daily services might not be attended by the whole congregation, the priests and pupils, and especially those who, one hopes, will become good preachers and pastors, should be present” (American Edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 53; 12-13).
Four or five in the morning?! Yikes! Nine in the morning is a bit more suitable for us. Perhaps still too early for some…
Nevertheless, we are pleased to be able to provide this “invaluable aid in teaching the Word of God” to students who attend a secular university. We are even more delighted to see them choosing the good portion.