I love the Lord’s Prayer. I love the old 1662 version which begins, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” And I love to explore the prayer in other languages. In Latin it begins, “Pater noster, qui es in caelis: sanctificetur Nomen Tuum” while in New Guinea Pidgin it starts with, “Papa bilong mipela, yu stap long heven, Mekim nem bilong yu i kamap holi.” I’ve stumbled through it in French, but I was stopped dead in my tracks when I tried the Welsh version, which begins, “Ein Tad.” Our Dad.
The simplest version of the Lord’s Prayer is in Luke’s Gospel which we have just heard. It is part of a commandment which has been kept more faithfully that any other command given by Jesus, more than loving enemies or washing each other’s feet. One of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say this.” And we call what follows The Lord’s Prayer.
And Jesus’ disciples listened and obeyed, and this prayer has been repeated by uncountable numbers of people for two thousand years, in more languages than any other form of words. The churches of the world are divided by organisation and belief, but every one of them uses the Lord’s Prayer. On Easter Sunday 2007, it was estimated that two billion Catholic, Anglican, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians who were sharing in the celebration of Easter would read, recite, or sing the prayer in hundreds of languages. All Christians around the globe are praying together and these words always unite us.
The Lord’s Prayer is not Jesus’ personal prayer, it is Jesus’ command and gift to the church. One disciple asked but Jesus spoke to all of them. When we use the prayer we say, “Our Father” which means God is the originator and lifegiver of all of us, the one who brings us to birth and breathes life into our bodies.
We say, “Our Father in heaven” because God is beyond our understanding and beyond any words we could use. Then we say, “hallowed be your name.” Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams explains this a prayer that people may look upon God's name (which is his word, his presence) as holy, as something that inspires awe and reverence, and that they may not trivialize it by making God a tool for their purposes, to put others down or make themselves feel safe. He sums up the meaning of the phrase by saying: "Understand what you're talking about when you're talking about God, this is serious, this is the most wonderful and frightening reality that we could imagine, more wonderful and frightening than we can imagine."
“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” There are many people who think that the reason for being a Christian is so that you can get to heaven at the end of your life. That’s not what the Lord’s Prayer says. It says, “We want God’s kingdom here on earth. We want our world to be perfect, just like the heavenly kingdom if perfect.” And when we pray, “your will be done” it means “tell us how we can help to bring this about.” We are Christians for the here and now, in this life as well as the next.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” This is the most complicated sentence in Greek and people have argued about the words for centuries. But it is really very simple. We are praying that God will give us the food we need for daily life. As simple as that.
The next section is about the forgiveness of sins. This means the removal of all barriers which stand between us and God and our neighbours. This is a two way process, we ask God to break down the barriers and we commit ourselves to do our own fair share of barrier breaking. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” We cannot expect God to tear down the wall between us and God if we are not prepared to break down the walls between us and those who have offended us. God’s forgiveness is given to us in the same way we give our forgiveness to others.
“Save us from the time of trial” is a new translation of the Lord’s Prayer as it is recorded by Matthew. We used to say, “Lead us not into temptation.” But in the letter of James (James 1:12–15) we read that God tempts nobody. So now we pray that when we are faced by the temptations of the world and our own desires, the trial will not be too hard for us. We ask to be delivered from evil. “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.” is a plea to be saved from all that is evil, within ourselves and in other people.
And finally, we turn back to God, as we began, in awe and wonder. We have to use words to worship God, but our words are never enough. “The kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, for ever and ever.” In the Latin version the words are “in saecula saeculorum” which means “in the world of worlds”. The psalmist says, “Through time and eternity, you are God.”
Jesus never meant us to rattle off the prayer from memory, without thought. Like all prayers, we speak in the presence of God, and we can sense that God is with us, if we open the eyes of our hearts. Each phrase is there to be spoken lovingly, worshipfully, knowing that all creation echoes the words.
Jesus never meant us to use the same words all the time. The Lord’s Prayer is a pattern for all prayers. We acknowledge the presence and wonder of God and ask for the fulfilment of God’s plan for us. We ask for what we need. Our earthly needs are as important as our spiritual needs. We confess our sins and forgive the sins of others. We ask for God’s guidance on our journey of life and faith and we stop; lost in amazement that the glory of all creation and time without end could be ready to listen to us, we who are like grains of sand on the shore when compared with such majesty.