For the Facing of this Hour
There have been a lot of posts on Facebook asking people to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It is most appropriate in this time of trouble.
The Lord’s Prayer is a misnomer in some respects. It is actually the Disciples’ Prayer. Jesus gave it to the Church to pray until he comes again. Jesus reiterated this prayer to his followers on at least one other occasion. Luke 11:1-4 records an abbreviated version of the prayer. Matthew 6:9-13 is the more familiar version. The final phrase, “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and glory, forever. Amen.” occurs in the King James Version which is based on a slightly different New Testament textual tradition.
The prayer Jesus taught his disciples has become a standard part of worship in many Christian denominations. We know it by heart. But Jesus did not intend for this prayer to be said mindlessly or to be used just once a week in Christian worship. Instead, Jesus gave us a model for our daily prayers. The prayer helps us focus on the things that really matter.
First, Jesus tells us to say, “Our Father.” Jesus consistently addressed God as “Father.” The God we pray to is not only our Creator, the maker of heaven and earth, full of power and majesty. God is also our Father. Jesus sometimes even used the term “Abba” to address God. “Abba” is the Greek transliteration of an Aramaic term that translates as “Daddy.” Abba is a childlike term that denotes intimacy, devotion, and love. God is our Father, our Daddy, if you will. God really cares about us and desires for us to know Him as a loving parent, not only our Almighty Creator.
Jesus furthers describes God as “in heaven.” Literally, in Greek, the text reads “in the heavens (plural).” “In the heavens” implies that God is not in some remote, distant place. Instead, God is immediately around us. The great hymn, “O Worship the King All Glorious Above” captures this sense of the “heavens.” “Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite? It breaths in the air; it shines in the light. It streams from the hills; it descends to the plain, and sweetly distils in the dew and the rain.” Our heavenly Father is not a remote deity. God is right here with us in the space that surrounds us, in the air, if you will.
The first petition of Jesus’s prayer is, “Hallowed be your name.” “Hallowed” is an old word that means “sanctified,” “set apart,” or “made holy.” The petition is in an imperatival form. It is a commandment. Literally, it would be “Let Your name be hallowed.” This petition entreats God to act. As one commentator observes, “It begs God to demonstrate his holiness by compelling all to acknowledge his sovereignty. When we pray, “Hallowed be Thy name,” we are saying “Exhibit your holiness by calling the court to session!” Let the last judgment begin.”
The next petitions are “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Again, the petition is in the imperatival form. We are imploring God to act. Let Your Kingdom come. Let Your will be done. Karl Barth, a twentieth century theologian, forcefully insisted that the idea of humans building the Kingdom of God on earth is bad theology. Only God can bring his Kingdom; our task is to pray for it and wait. This is really our deepest longing: for the Kingdom to come, for God’s good will to be done on earth. In the present we see mostly the will of man and the will of evil on earth. But one day God will bring the ultimate transformation to this world and eradicate sin and evil. That day can’t come soon enough, but we cannot bring it to pass. Robert McAfee Brown, a twentieth century Presbyterian minister and theologian disliked Barth’s theology. He believed we could build the Kingdom through social activism. He created a parody of Barth’s theology using the hymn “Rise Up, O Men of God.” He wrote, “Sit down, O men of God, His Kingdom He will bring, just as and when and where He will, you cannot do a thing.” I think Barth was right and Brown was wrong. We cannot bring in the Kingdom. What we can do is prayer for its coming, every hour of every day. I’m glad to see folks on Facebook encouraging each other to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Instead of widespread sickness and death from COVID-19, instead of the blame-game being played by politicians, instead of sin and death and evil: “Thy Kingdom Come; Thy will be done.”
The remaining petitions of Jesus’ prayer focus on our most basic human needs. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Most people who followed Jesus lived a “hand to mouth” existence. They made enough each day to feed themselves and their households. If they could not work, they did not eat.” Many, many people have lost their livelihoods in the pandemic. The grocery stores are still relatively full, but many basic items are sold out. We’ve never had to worry about having enough to eat. Prior to the pandemic, most of us should have prayed, “Don’t give us so much daily bread today!” While there are no terrible food shortages (except maybe toilet paper), vulnerable populations, the poor and the unemployed or underemployed, are struggling to get their “daily bread.” Let us pray for them especially during this time. The petition also serves to remind us all that we are profoundly dependent upon God’s provision. We need God to supply what we need to stay alive: protection from the corona virus, good health, medical care if we contract the disease, and financial resources.” All of this might be included in “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Next, we should pray for forgiveness and the grace to forgive others who wrong us. Governor Cuomo of New York, in a recent press conference, shared that his daughter was under quarantine with exposure to the Corona Virus. He said that this crisis had given him the opportunity to talk with his daughter about terrible mistakes he had made as her father. It was a time for reconciliation. This is a very good time to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and to forgive those who have wronged us. God is the only one who has the power to forgive sins. We are “saved by grace through faith.” We can be confident that our Father in the heavens will forgive us, if we only ask Him. However, if we have a recalcitrant heart, if we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us, our stubbornness should give us pause and concern about the work of God’s grace in our hearts. We must move towards forgiving others, even as we have been forgiven. It may take a longtime to forgive, but the time may be short. We must not allow ourselves to become comfortable with unforgiveness.
Penultimately, we should pray, “Bring us not into temptation.” The traditional language is wrong. God does not lead anyone into temptation. God cannot be tempted with evil and He does not tempt anyone to sin. A better translation would be, “Bring us not into the time of trail.” Jesus seems to be looking to the end of the age when he comes at the last hour. We should note that the current troubles are not the eschatological judgments Jesus has in mind. Jesus said in Matthew 24:7 “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” The Corona Virus is just part of the “beginning of sorrows.”
In addition to asking for deliverance from the coming eschatological judgments, I think the prayer also implores that a kind providence attend us as we cope with the trials and tribulations of daily living. We might paraphrase the petition this way: “O Lord, do not bring trials and troubled into my life today.”
Finally, we should pray to be delivered from evil or the Evil One (the demonic that is at work in this world). Evil has been loosed in this world. It manifests itself in sin, the demonic, violence, sickness, and death. We have little power over these forces. We need to be rescued from them today, every day, and at the end of all days.
The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” In response, Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer. These should be, must be, the topics of our daily prayers. As you pray the Lord’s Prayer during this pandemic you are saying:
O God, sanctify your name in this godless world.
O God, bring Your Kingdom and will to earth.
O God supply what I really need to stay alive.
O God, forgive me and help me to forgive others.
O God, don’t bring terrible troubles into my life.
O God, deliver me, rescue me from the evil that is all around me.
During this pandemic, let us join with each other in praying the Disciples’ Prayer, not mindlessly or just once. Let us pray with understanding and constancy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.