Morning and Evening

Whatever might occupy your thoughts when you first wake up, whatever might keep you from falling asleep, there is nothing that can bracket your day better or more simply than Luther’s evening and morning prayers. The prayers are, as is typical of Luther in the Small Catechism, succinct and beautiful and rhythmic summaries of deep and profound theology: the fearful reality of sin, the all-encompassing mercy of God, and His gracious care of us day and night. These are prayers simple enough for very young children, but deep enough for any Christian to grow into through an entire life.

But they can bracket more than just a single day. Last year’s Greyhound (2020; streaming on AppleTV+) opens with part of the morning prayer, and ends with part of the evening prayer. In between is a tense, though somewhat typical, World War II movie focusing on an outnumbered escort of troop and supply ships in the “black pit,” an area of the Atlantic that could not be covered by air support. Tom Hanks is Captain Krause, as well as the author of the adapted screenplay. Hanks is perfect for roles like this (see especially Sully and Captain Phillips), as the externally controlled, but internally distressed man in charge.

In Greyhound, Captain Krause’s composure never cracks, in spite of never before having crossed the U-boat-infested North Atlantic. He calmly but efficiently issues the necessary commands, though he is later critical of his own actions in certain moments. But we see that his strength and courage rests on something greater than his own physical and mental reserves. Besides his prayers, we see more than once the little card he has on his mirror, citing Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We also see him pause before every meal to say a silent prayer (perhaps Psalm 104:27-28?).

There is often a token Christian in war movies, in order to provide a moral compass and restrain his comrades from fully engaging in war’s savagery. Nearly as often, that soldier’s faith is tested and even destroyed by what he sees. But Captain Krause is “steady as he goes” throughout, with something deeper than what Hollywood can typically imagine of a believer’s faith. His daily actions are marked out by a unique position: he knows he is responsible for his actions, for carrying out his duties to protect the people and ships to which he is assigned; at the same time, he knows that all things are in the hands of his God, including the enemy. So when they destroy one of the German U-boats, a sailor says, “Congratulations, sir. Fifty less krauts.” Krause responds, “Yes. Fifty souls.” The Germans are his enemy, but they remain people, God’s creatures for whom Christ died. So he does his job, but he takes no joy in the destruction of people. This seeming contradiction cannot be resolved, at least in this world; he can only do his best, carrying out his vocation, both accountable to and forgiven by God.

Even besides the high tension of the movie, I find Captain Krause’s book-ending prayers significant for another reason. Though he prays part of the morning prayer in the morning, and part of the evening prayer in the evening, they are not the morning and evening of the same day. He starts one day, and his duties exhaust and weary him over the course of several days, falling into bed at the end of a different day.

We are reminded that sleep at the end of a day and death at the end of a life are often coordinated, not only in the Scriptures, but in the Christian’s prayers. During Compline, we may pray: “Abide with us at the end of the day, at the end of our life, at the end of the world.” Captain Krause has to be constantly vigilant for many hours. Just when he’s finished dealing with one threat, there is another. Though it is partly a dramatic device, it is not a bad metaphor for the constant and ongoing struggles of Christians with their own sin, with the threat of death, and with the work of the devil—against all of which Luther’s prayers focus our requests. Each morning we pray against sin and the devil, thankful for another day, confident of the Lord’s merciful care; then each evening we pray the Lord’s forgiveness for our failures, and that He would keep us from harm during the night. In the morning of our lives we are marked with the sign of Christ’s cross, and in the evening of our declining life, we are marked again with the same cross. Birth and death, morning and night, all of it under the sign of the cross and in the hope of the resurrection.

Greyhound does not tell every story of the “Battle of the Atlantic,” and its plot is limited. It is more a short story than a novel, an episode in the life of one man at one time. But whatever people might wish it did instead, its fictional narrative still gives us provocative hints of a life lived faithfully and steadily on course.