Sometimes, it is important to step back from the pure abstract theology and remember that prayer (talking to God) is the highest form of theology (God-talk)*, so I’m kicking off a series of reflections on the Lord’s Prayer, today focusing on the first word, “our”. Community is a scary, difficult, and hard to understand concept. The Bible stresses how important it is for Christians to have unity in everything that they do (Philippians 2:1-11; Psalm 133:2 come to mind immediately, but I Corinthians and Philemon are about unity as a whole), but how do we find that in a community of differents?
First, an introduction. Matthew introduces the prayer in the middle of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where he is a new Moses teaching the disciples the new Torah of God. How are the covenant people of God supposed to act? They are not to make their prayers public for attention (vv5-6), but to pray in secret to be rewarded by the Lord who sees our secrets. Neither do we need to heap on words worried that God will not hear shorter prayers (v 7) nor do we need to worry that the Father will not hear what we need; rather, God already knows what we need (v 8). Luke presents an abridged form of the prayer in chapter 11 of his Gospel as the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. The teaching is bookended by knowing how the proper posture in relation to the Lord (10:38-42) and how to persevere in prayer to get what you need (11:5-13). The shorter prayer has the same basic flow, it just edits the second half of each sentence out (but if you went to a Baptist school like I did, it loses the cadence of the KJV I’m sure you know as well as I).
So, I’ve been learning how to pray like the disciples learned from Jesus based on the ministry of John the Baptist. Whenever I feel a lack of words or just a basic need, my prayers have turned to “How long, O Lord?” in trouble and “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” for any other occassion. The Jesus Prayer hurriedly comes when I feel a deep longing for connection to God – but I’ve specifically chosen to repeat the Lord’s Prayer more often.
A few reasons for this, I suppose. One is that it’s specifically what Jesus taught his disciples how to pray. A second reason is that the prayers of Scripture, the psalms, the thanksgivings, are supposed to shape our thoughts. They are how we are supposed to see the world around us. Praying verses that we have memorized will shape our minds and sanctify both our thoughts and our speech. Third is the precedent we have from the Didache, an early Christian document (possibly written before all of the canonical books) that teaches us to pray the prayer three times a day. More pressingly, though, is that I just don’t pray enough anyway and that needed to change.
So, the first word: “our”. I’ve always struggled with what it means to belong. I don’t know how to interact with people in a world where sports, obscure Netflix shows, and celebrity gossip rule the day. To be honest, I hardly know how to react to people at all. I speak exclusively in memes, read any piece of Star Wars literature I can get, and only watch shows about super heroes and spin-offs of 90’s sitcoms designed for 12 year old girls. I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Tom Brady and a Tarvaris Jackson; last night at Connection Group I couldn’t figure out why the Super Bowl was held in a football stadium that the Cardinals also played in (why would a baseball team play in a football stadium?); I wouldn’t know whether or not the Cavaliers were a college team or a NHL team. I could tell you the Jedi High Council at any point in Star Wars lore, I could tell you the history of Fake Wedge Antilles, Arvel Crynyd’s heroic act of bravery and the titles awarded to him and awarded in his honor, hell I could even tell you Kal’Falnl’ C’ndros’s backstory. But there’s a sense of self-alienation (not the Marxist way) in all of that. . That’s a scary place for me to be. One of my greatest fears is being alone in a room full of people, to not be affirmed for who I am but have to act like someone else to feel like I fit in. I feel segregated because of my interests, yet I’m called into a community that exists whether or not I’m a part.
A community founded on the blood and resurrection of our Savior, affected in our souls by the work of the Holy Spirit, into the family of the Father. A community called to something deeper than the Shadow Squadron or the Seattle Seahawks. A community of brothers and sisters, following our Brother Christ, the firstfruit of our future Resurrection. Whatever differences I have with them are inconsequential because those bonds are not built on shared interests but on the foundation of the resurrection of the saints.
But that doesn’t mean my differences have to be pushed out of the window. Nowhere does Jesus command me to learn Derek Jeter’s RBI nor are my friends called to memorize every event of the Yuuzhan Vong War. But there is a call to die to yourself, make sacrifices for each other, and outdo each other in showing each other honor (Romans 12). And that starts with sucking it up and learning about the things my community values.
The thing is, though, I know my efforts will be rewarded. I know that the Lord values my efforts in community and has instituted something to re-affirm my position in his community. The Eucharist, as Paul tells us, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (I Cor 10:16-17) The Eucharist calls me to remember that because of the spilled blood and broken body of my Savior, my efforts in finding community and fitting in are not in vain. They are re-affirmed each time that we take Eucharist together, as we proclaim the death of Jesus until the end comes.
Even the most inconsequential parts of the body (which I’ve felt like, what I’ve been told I am) are given high honor in the Body of Christ, and for that, I will gladly pray to “our” Father every morning, afternoon, and night.
*H/T to Blake Baggott for this quote, I don’t have the link where he originally posted it.