“Our Father, which art in heaven”: what does this mean?
It means that the One on whom we call upon is not a distant Supreme Being who is uninvolved or uninterested in the lives of his creation. It means that God is our Father, and his love towards us is one which is for us; it is a love which is gentle in times of sorrow, stern in correction, and courageous in times when his children are powerless.
It means that we are his children – all of us. It means that those who are made in his image are his children; also, it means that his children bear his image. Those who feel or are made to believe that they are less than human; those who are treated like they are less than human – they, yes, they bear the image of the Creator. To each human being, “Our Father, which art in heaven” means that God says to you, “You are my child, and I am here for you. I want you.”
“Hallowed by thy name”: what does this mean?
It means that God is not a human being. It means that he is perfect and trustworthy, because he cannot lie, nor can he change. “Be holy, for I am holy.” He has all power in his hand, and is not defiled by human evil or sickness, but stands above all powers and principalities unhindered in his purpose. He is holy: he is Light, and his Word shines in the darkness, and it is not overcome.
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven”: what does this mean?
God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. Before the world of Cain began its reign of destruction and violence, his kingdom already was, and is. His kingdom is not awaiting a permit or a plot of land to begin its construction, it is already a reality in heaven. This means that it is already complete. When we pray for his kingdom to come, we pray for a perfect kingdom which has been inaugurated by Jesus Christ. “The kingdom of God is in your midst.”
What is God’s will? His will is peace, his burden is light. His will is justice and reconciliation. God’s will is for us to be one, just as Christ and the Father are one. God’s will is for his kingdom to be manifest in the earth, bringing healing and peace where there is death and war; his will is to bring together murderer and victim where there is injustice, greed, and violence; his will is for his glory to cover the earth like the waters cover the seas. God’s will – his good, perfect, and pleasing will – is to heal us, to bind up our wounds, to revive and restore us, “that we might live in his presence … As surely as the sun rises, he will appear.”
“Give us this day our daily bread”: what does this mean?
God knows our needs long before we express them. Not only our needs, he knows our desires. He knows we need food, clothing, money, friends, intimacy, community, comfort, joy – he knows our needs and the things that bring us joy. He knows that art makes us feel alive; that celebrating a goal with our favorite team is an expression of human connection; that comedy and laughter are the best medicine for many ailments. He knows it all, and he is looking at our lives, and has placed our bread, clothing, friends, joys and comforts in place for us to receive them in time. God knows our needs, and meets them on time – he is never late. He is always on time. Our daily bread comes in different forms for us, because we’re all different. He knows that, too, and he has been working (“My Father is working even now”) to provide for us.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”: what does this mean?
This means that we all stand before God as creatures who are upheld and preserved by a great God. “forgive us our debts”: this word reminds us that we are always in need of forgiveness. As human beings, we are never totally right, never totally good – “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked, “No one is good – except God alone.” This word is the gospel word which declares to us that, even though we are in need of forgiveness at all times, that forgiveness has come! If it was not available, we would not have been commanded to ask forgiveness. He says, “Ask and you shall receive”; “You do not receive because you do not ask.” We are given here a way to freedom and self-acceptance, a place where we can submit to God and allow him and his strength to raise us up, so that we are made strong and courageous by his Spirit.
“As we forgive our debtors”: the two questions that arise here are: how do/can we forgive? and, who are our debtors? The truth is that we cannot forgive on our own self-determination. We cannot truly forgive unless the Spirit moves us. This does not mean that true forgiving only happens in the church; this means that the Spirit is moving in the world, which is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. By God’s Spirit we are empowered to forgive; we are given the power and freedom to die, so that we might be raised again. In forgiving others, we crucify our pride and desire for vengeance, and place that unbearable burden upon the altar of our Father, who has the power to mete out justice in full measure.
Who are our debtors? This is the hardest word in this whole prayer, for it is the ultimate surrender of self-will. It is total submission and death to self. Our debtors are those whom we look upon and say, “You did this,” “You will pay for this,” “Why did you do this?” “What have you done?” “I hate you,” “I’m going to kill you,” “Go to hell,” and every other curse imaginable under heaven. To these, Christ has given us a command which we cannot mete on our own. This is beyond our power and even our interest. But he has made us to be free; he has made us to love and to live in his presence. “It is for freedom that he has set us free.” We are to find those in our lives and in our hearts upon whom there is a curse and a promissory note for retaliation, and return to them the shackles they have placed on our futures by keeping us in bondage. It is giving them over to God, who is able to carry that burden of pain, guilt, anger, fury and rage. Our debtors are those who have killed our children; raped us; abused us and taken advantage of us; those who have killed our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and have done so legally; our debtors are those for whom justice is a commodity for whom they deem acceptable. As we give them to God, we are not releasing them from responsibility or judgment: we are releasing them to responsibility and judgment. What is more frightening than to find that you stand as a sinner unrepentant in the hands of an angry God? Where will you run? To whom will you call upon? Will your money save you? Your influence? Your prestige? Where will you run to when you stand before not a man or a woman that you took advantage of, but the God of all creation, who has your life in your hands? We release our debtors into the hands of God for salvation or condemnation.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”: what does this mean?
God does not lead anyone into temptation. He does not cause any person to indulge in sinfulness behavior: “When someone is tempted, they should not say that God is tempting me.” This is not a plea that God would spare us from a pre-ordained or whimsical fancy where we are forced to undergo something ungodly. No, this is a prayer asking God to keep us on the “straight and narrow”; it is a prayer that we might find the narrow way, the “ancient path” and walk ye in it. This is a prayer that, whatever come our way, that we might not be derailed or discouraged to continue to serve, proclaim, and witness to the resurrection life in Christ Jesus. This means that we do not fear that God might lead us into temptation; it means that we rest upon his promise that he is our shelter in time of need, into which we can run into.
We pray also that God would deliver us from evil, and the evil one. This world has been affected by sin, and groans for redemption. It is also ruled by “the prince of the air,” by powers and principalities which are objective realities apart from moral imperfection. This world is more than a series of bad mistakes and individual consequences: there are objective realities which set themselves up against the kingdom of God, which seek to destroy human life and wellbeing, which have their own inertia. We pray that God would deliver us from the evil which comes from without, which seeks to demolish us, to steal our joy, hope, love, peace, and love. God is our strong tower to which we run; he is our salvation; our present help; our deliverer; our Lord. Injustice, oppression, possession, greed – we pray recognizing that these realities exist, but that we have the victory through Christ, who is our peace. We do not despair, but pray with righteous indignation against evil and the powers of darkness, thanking God that he holds our lives in the palm of his hand. We pray thus, “it is not a question if you will deliver us – we rejoice for you will deliver us, and indeed, you have already done it.”
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever”: what does this mean?
Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Before all things were, God is; when all comes to an end, God is. This final word of proclamation is that God, the Creator, is the king of a kingdom which knows no end; that he has power in his hand, even in the midst of a fallen world which seems to be filled with violence and chaos; and that his glory is not diminished or supplanted by the powers of sin and evil. The kingdom of God has been established by God, and therefore it is not subject to decay or destruction: “God builds his own house,” and the Holy Spirit vivifies the church in the world, so that we can proclaim in the most dire circumstances, “His kingdom knows no end.” When racist and unjust institutions endorse and perpetuate the slaughter of human lives, it is still said, “His kingdom knows no end.” When the might begin to lose their strength, and the world they have created begins to crumble, leaving many to decry the end of the world, “His kingdom knows no end.”
And his power and glory remind us that he is working in the world and in our lives today. What does the power of God look like? It is disappointing, because it is not the kind that invades like a conquering army, nor is it the vigilante kind which disregards the law in order to achieve the law’s ultimate aims of justice and retribution. The power of God is the Word in the beginning which spoke “Let there be light,” and there was light. The power of God is this Word, this eternal, creative Word, “become flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.” The power of God is the resurrection. The power of God is that though “we are hard pressed on every side, we are not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” When Jesus saw the community mourning the death of Lazarus, he wept. When he sees communities broken by violence, by injustice and inequality, he weeps. When a young man with a family is executed in the streets by law enforcement who deny him due process because of a pernicious narrative of racial superiority, he weeps. When law enforcement officers are gunned down because of their profession, having done no harm, he weeps. When a truck explodes in a crowd killing innocent lives, not allowing a community to heal from a previous tragedy, he weeps. This is the power of God, to create the world from nothing, and to be our God, for us.
This is also God’s glory, to be God-for-us. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that God’s glory includes his Fatherly love for his children. He made us, he has carved our names in the palm of his hand, and he has not forgotten us. He loves us, and despite the nature of the world after Genesis 3, John 1 reiterates that “God’s look” is still upon us, and that that look is our surest hope. Jesus Christ is God’s Word of promise to us that he still says “Yes” to his creation. And that “Yes” is the simultaneous “No” to evil, sin, and the forces which oppose his kingdom. We who hear his voice, and obey him hear, “Yes. Enter into my rest.” His kingdom, power, and glory are forever. We are not abandoned, and we do not lose hope. God’s power is not weak, his glory is majestic, we are his children, and we are loved by this great, merciful, holy, loving God.