“Teach us how to pray,” the disciples asked Jesus. (Luke 11, 1) His answer was the prayer we call the Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer.
Because Jesus taught it, the Lord’s Prayer is the most important of our prayers. We learn it by heart; it appears everywhere in our Christian life, in public and private prayer, in worship and sacraments. It ‘s a treasured prayer.
Though we memorize it as a set formula, the Lord’s Prayer shouldn’t become words we say mechanically without thought. It’s meant to lead us into the presence of God, who is the Father of Jesus and our Father too.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
When Moses approached God on Mount Sinai, a voice said, “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” An infinite chasm separates us from the transcendent God.
In the Lord’s Prayer, however, Jesus tells us to come close to God who is beyond human understanding, who dwells in mystery, who is all holy. Go to God as your loving father.
To call God “Father” does not mean that God is masculine. No description of God is ever adequate, because God is beyond human categories like gender. We call him our “heavenly Father” because he is beyond male or female.
Calling God “Father” more rightly describes our own relationship to God rather than who God is. Jesus says we are God’s children; we have a filial relationship to God, who sees us as his daughters and sons. We should approach God like children going to a loving parent. Jesus himself, God’s only Son, invites us to a relate to God like this.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus often said that God’s power would appear and renew all creation. Using human terms again, he spoke of God as a mighty king who rules over the world according to a plan that unfolds from the world’s beginning. When God’s kingdom comes, good will triumph and evil will be defeated. God’s kingdom will bring peace and justice, it will end sorrow and suffering. No eye can see it now or imagine what it will be like, but it will be a glorious kingdom. Jesus taught it’s not far off, but is already present and growing in our midst and soon to be revealed.
In the Lord’s prayer we pray that God’s kingdom come, that God’s will, which is for our good, be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
As God’s children, what’s more childlike than to ask for daily bread, a term that means more than physical food? When we ask for our daily bread we ask for everything we need. With the confidence of children, Jesus taught, say: “Give us today what we need.”
Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
This petition of the Lord’s Prayer is a demanding one. Not only do we ask God’s forgiveness for our daily offenses, but we link God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others. That’s not easy to do. We need God’s help to do it, but we must do it to receive God’s mercy for ourselves, and so we say it everyday.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Life’s not easy, it can be a daily battle. Trials like sickness, old age, failure, or disappointment can crush our spirits. False values and promises can fool and entice us. The times in which we live can seem hopeless. And so we ask God to help us not to fail these tests, but to lead us on the right path and deliver us from evil, to help us go on as his children.
The Lord’s Prayer sums up the teaching of Jesus. It was his prayer before it was ours. He approached God his Father with childlike confidence, he looked for God’s guidance and relied on him to face whatever life held, even death. “Your will be done,” he said as he faced his own death. He forgave his enemies.
The Lord’s Prayer is the norm for every other prayer we say, whether we use words of our own or forms we find that lift up our hearts to God. An early saint once said: “God wants us to pray in our own voice.” Like children in a family, we each have our own voice, yet a mother or father recognizes the voice of each one. In one sense, The Lord’s Prayer is a common language we speak. Whatever prayers we say will be heard if they share its language.
The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer of Jesus and our prayer. It leads us to our Father in heaven; it also leads us become like his only Son, who taught us this prayer while on earth.