SUNDAY’S READINGS | July 24, 2022
Hos. 1:2-10 or Gen. 18:20-32
Ps. 85 or Ps. 138
Col. 2:6-15, (16-19)
“And it came to pass that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, ‘Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil’” (Luke 11:1-4).
The word our is, in some sense, the key to this prayer. Even the most solitary supplicant prays “for the whole state of Christ’s Church and the world” (BCP, p. 328). We pray the Our Father together with and for our brothers and sisters.
In a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer, St. Cyprian, third-century bishop, theologian, and martyr, reminds us that prayer is always public, common, and for all, even if said privately. The following translation, though somewhat dated, may serve by its strangeness to focus our attention. Read it slowly. “Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not, ‘My Father, which are in heaven,’ nor ‘Give me this day my daily bread’; nor does each one ask that only his own debts should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because the whole people are one” (Ante-Nicene Fathers).
Jesus prayed for the world even in his agony. “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace” (BCP, p. 101). We are called to pray with open hearts for the whole world and everyone. And yet we fail almost before we begin. We do not hold the whole world in our prayer as we ought, but this difficulty is precisely why we return to prayer repeatedly. In prayer, the heart is broken and expanded over time.
Turning to another commentary on the Lord’s Prayer from a quite different time, the 19th century, we hear again an emphasis on the word our. Frederick Denison Maurice writes, “Much of the practical difficulty of the prayer lies assuredly in the first word of it. … When we pray, we are praying for them [the people we feel to be separated from us by almost impassible barriers] … we are praying for them and with them; we cannot speak for ourselves without speaking for them; if we do not carry their sins to the throne of God’s grace, we do not carry our own; that all the good we hope to attain there belongs to them just as much as to us, and that our claim to it is sure of being rejected if it is not one which is valid for them also. Yet all this is included in the word ‘Our.’” (“Sermon on the Prayer Book and the Lord’s Prayer”; word order altered slightly).
We pray for all sorts and conditions of men, yet we fail to embody and believe our prayer.
We try again. Going to the throne of grace, we try to break open our hearts. We pray a ceaseless prayer from the heart: “Our Father who art in heaven.”
Look It Up: Luke 11:9
Think About It: Ask, seek, knock. The door God opens is your heart.