Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Lord’s Prayer: Bringing Heaven to Earth now

In the Daily Office readings, we come once again to those words that have become known as “The Lords Prayer.” The words have become very familiar to Christians through the ages, perhaps too familiar. In the 4th century, the Lord's Prayer was kept as a secret, given only to new Christians after their baptism. New initiates were ushered out of the worship service before the reciting of the prayer.

The prayer was not such a secret to Jews in the time of Jesus. The words are, in fact, quite Jewish and come from what was known as the “18 Benedictions” that were supposed to be recited three times a day. When Jesus is asked “How shall we pray,” he replies, in effect, “you already know how to pray; you already know these words.”

And yet there is something in how Jesus presents the familiar prayer that feels new because the words cut to the core of our relationship with God, with each other, and with the trials we confront in this life. Notice the prayer doesn't say anything about the next life. It doesn't say “get me to heaven someday,” rather it says “bring heaven here now.” There is an immediacy to the prayer, and its final words are in the command voice. The prayer is entirely about here and now.

The prayer appears twice in the New Testament; first in the Gospel of Matthew 6:9-13, which is the version more familiar in our worship, and then again in the Gospel of Luke 11:2-4 with the more simplified version that we heard a few moments ago.

Before we go into the heart of the prayer, a note about the familiar ending, the part about “the kingdom, the power and the glory.” That does not come from Jesus. It comes from 1 Chronicles 29:11 in the Old Testament, and is known as King David’s benediction.

Although Jesus taught this direct prayer with no adornment, the Church felt the need to dress it up a little at the end.

Today it is my hope that we can enter into the prayer as those who might have first heard it. We begin:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name...”
The words we translate “Our Father” come from the Aramaic “Abba” which is better translated “Papa.” God, you are as close to us as a loving parent.

Yet, in the same breath comes another way of knowing God: “Hallowed be your name.” Your name is so holy we don’t know your name; You, our creator, are beyond our comprehension just as eternity and infinity are beyond our comprehension.

We live in the tension, the restless sea, of knowing you both ways.
“…your kingdom come, your will be done, in earth as in heaven.”
We pray that God will bring heaven to earth, not in some distant time after we die, but right now. Let the promise of the future come here today. Guide us to see where your kingdom is being born, where heaven is springing forth among us.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
These words are possibly are the most mysterious and misunderstood words in the entire prayer. This is not a prayer for a subsistence meal.

This prayer asks for the food only God can bring, the manna of Moses, the bread of the Last Supper, the meal that will sustain us when we are on the restless sea.

The phrase “daily bread” comes from a single word – epie-ou-sion – and it appears in the Bible only in the Lord’s Prayer. The better meaning is “give us the bread – the food for our restless soul – that lasts for all eternity.”

We pray for the bread that will put us face-to-face with God, allowing us to touch God with all of our senses.

And that brings us face-to-face with each other as human beings. How are we living together? How are we sharing this planet together?
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
We have turned away from God and we’ve turned away from each other. That is the classic definition of sin.

Forgive us.

We hurt other people and we hurt ourselves. We lie when we should be honest; snide when we should be kind; talking when we should be listening.

Forgive me. Forgive you. Forgive us.

This is not asking for a plea bargain, rather we ask for the strength to forgive each other just as God forgives us before we ask.
“Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.”
We have arrived at the very center of the prayer. The familiar “lead us not into temptation” is not quite what it says.

The more accurate translation is “save us from the trial too big for us, and save us from evil.”
Keep us safe, keep us out of harm’s way, and protect us from all that threatens us in the world or inside ourselves.

When we pray, nothing is held back, and so we are bold to say: Give us courage when we need it most; rescue us when we need rescuing; deliver us from evil.

In a little while, we will say the Lord’s Prayer in our Holy Eucharist just before we break the bread and then share in the cup of our Communion.

Today, just this once, I am asking you to pray the Lord’s Prayer in the translation from our Prayer Book that is a closer to the words Jesus taught. You will find it in the program when the time comes.

Even if you’re familiar with every version of the Lord’s Prayer there is, it is my hope that today you will pray this as if it were brand new to you. Let the prayer pull you in like it never has before.

Maybe this will feel a little uncomfortable. Maybe you will hear something in it you’ve never heard before. Maybe the point is to get out onto the restless sea.

At its core, the prayer affirms what Jesus tells us over and over: that people everywhere are blessed, and that God loves all people – all creation – and wishes for us the bread that lasts for eternity.

“Ask and it will be given you, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”AMEN

Postscript: Here is a paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer that I wrote in 2003, based on my own meditations about the prayer:
Creator God, Parent of us all,
the one who exists inside and outside all of your existence;

Your very name is so Sacred it is beyond our knowing;
Let come your loving, gentle embrace;
And the justice that is yours alone;
Let come all that you wish for us and for all of your creation;
Make perfect this earth just as your dwelling place is perfect;
Feed us today with the bread of life that you have promised us forever;
Cancel the debts we have created with our wrongs because we cannot cancel the debts by ourselves,
even as we ask you for the strength to cancel the wrongs
that have been done to us;
Protect us from trials so difficult that they will break us;
And Rescue us from the numbing coldness of the power of Evil that always seeks to block our path and keep us from being with you!
Truly (Amen)

By James Richardson, Fiat Lux

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