The Prayer of Prayers 2

February 21st, 2014

Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name. St Matthew 6:9

Picking up the thread of one of the discussions in my first article, we were thinking about the constant movement in Jesus' teaching from the external to the 'internal', the appearance to the inward reality. In this regard, it is interesting to note how the very teaching of the Lord's Prayer is set in the context of more general teaching regarding hypocrisy (St Matthew 6:1-8). This is what Jesus calls 'practicing your piety before men'. Alms giving and prayer become theatrical acts, intended for the admiration of the on-looker, which is ironic since the very word 'hypocrisy' reminds us of the Greek masks worn by the performers in the ancient theatre. God is hardly involved in any of this human posturing. By contrast, Jesus recommends retreat to a private place, praying to the Father who 'sees in secret' (verse 6).

When Jesus begins his prayer 'Our Father' he echoes the language of the Psalmist and the prophets. Isaiah says in a well-known passage: 'Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter, we are all the work of thy hand' (Isaiah 64:8) Hence, this new community of faith that Jesus is marking out with the Prayer of Prayers is continuous with the faith history just as Jesus himself is the fulfilment of both the Law and the Prophets.

Sometimes people become disturbed by the male term used for the first Person of the Holy Trinity. It is no news ancient Israel was a society very different to our own and I sympathise with our need to recognise a more inclusive approach to 'gender' when we think of God. However, the point I would like to emphasise is that any language about 'God the Father' is inevitably metaphorical. To paraphrase Isaiah above, the pots have no word to describe the divine Potter. In the theology of the Eastern church God is described simply as 'the One who Is'. Or again, what we see of the Father is Jesus, what we do not see of Jesus is the Father and how we are able to 'see' or indeed comprehend anything at all is through the sanctifying and revelatory power of the Holy Spirit. Our Father is 'in heaven' because quite simply, wherever God is present, there is heaven—the reverse is also true. As you pray, God is present and you are literally in heaven.

One could write a book on the theological concept of the 'name' especially the name of God. The name of Jesus, St Paul tells us, is 'the name above every name' (Philippians 2:9) indeed the only name which can effect salvation. There is an interesting shift between holiness in the Old Testament where it can be a thing approaching terror (1 Chronicles 13:9-10) and the sanctifying holiness of Jesus' ministry. The fire of God the Father's holiness, unendurable outside Christ, in Christ becomes our God-given home, as the faithful men in Daniel were not touched by the purifying heat of the 'fiery furnace' (Daniel 3:21-28).


Eternal Lord, let us exult
in your saving holiness,
For thou art the One who Is.

comments powered by Disqus