Wednesday, February 25, 2015

our family prayer

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Later on during the course of this service we will say together the Lord's Prayer. I believe it was St Cyprian, the third century bishop of Carthage and martyr, who first called it the family prayer of the Church. It is easy to see why he thought of it in that way: those who call the same person 'Father' are surely all of the same family; as are those who call themselves brothers and sisters in Christ. 

St Cyprian also said it would be sinful for any who called themselves a Christian to fail to say this prayer. Why? Because it was given to us by our Lord himself when he taught his disciples how to pray. I have occasionally come across those who try to argue that Jesus meant by saying 'when you pray, pray thus' before giving us these words meant not that we should repeat them word for word but rather use them as a model, a pattern. In fact, in the margin of an old Bible I was saw written next to the Lord's prayer words to the effect: 'he meant pray like this, not pray exactly this.' They must have had strong views on the topic indeed to deface a copy of Holy Scripture for the sake of them! 

However, the Church has never taken that view; and it has been the tradition of the Church for almost 20 centuries now to faithfully and reverently pray these precious words that first fell from the lips of the Word made flesh, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, God himself made man. Certainly Anglicanism in general and the Church of Ireland in particular has never chosen to be unfaithful to that tradition by accepting some novel interpretation of our Lord's words when he gave us this prayer in order to reject the regular use of it. 

If any should doubt that, I suggest they take the time to leaf their way through our Prayer Book should they ever have some idle moments; they will discover that every service within in it, whether that for Holy Communion or any of the others, includes the rubric to pray the Lord's prayer. Even the instructions for a service of the word, which contains only a skeleton framework for how one should put together a fairly informal service should the occasion demand it, contains the instruction to include this prayer as part of it. 

As a result it has become the prayer that we all know, so familiar that it is deep in our bones, one that we learn as children and use all through our lives, sometimes to our very last breath. I can not tell you how moving it has been on occasions as I minister to those who are dying, to stand beside the bed of a soul whom the medical staff believe have lapsed deep into a coma, and as I say this prayer to see their lips begin moving silently along to the words I am speaking.

Because it is our 'family prayer' I thought that I would look at it part by part over the course of our mid-week services during Lent and Holy Week, and ponder deeply the meaning. Knowing something so well there is a danger that we no longer think about what it is that we are saying; and I hope that by looking at it in this way to awaken our understanding of what it is that we pray. 

After all, remember why it was that Jesus gave these words to his disciples. It was because the begged him to teach them how to pray, just as John the Baptist had taught his followers. And so I pray that over the course of the next few weeks that our Lord will awaken our hearts and teach us again how to pray the words he gave us so that they truly become a prayer and not merely words that we speak when we gather together as a family. Amen

note: this is part one of a series of reflections for Lent and Holy Week

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