But you, when you pray, go into your inner room; and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you. And when you are praying, do not babble on and on like the pagans; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Therefore, pray in this way: ‘Our Father in heaven, sanctified be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’(Matthew 6:6-13)
Although I’d read, what is commonly referred to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ countless times since personally professing and committing my life to Christ1975, it wasn’t until we started attending an Anglican church in around 2015 that I realised its significance within the life of the Anglican Community, i.e., that it has a kind of incorporeality—a presence that edifies those gathered. Of course, we should not confuse this with the ‘communion of believers’ (when ‘the church’ comes together to share communion) but rather to express appreciation for its cohesiveness—its ‘drawing together’ of those gathered.
Any kind of gathering (whether in a building or not) that detracts from personal communion with Christ may have injurious results on the believer’s personal devotion—especially in times of social isolation. In such times of separation, should we have relied too heavily on our regular times of gathering, we may realise that such reliance has left us bereft of the ‘connection’ with Christ we believed ourselves to have realised. The words of Hebrews ring clear as the writer implores Jesus’ followers (The Church) “…let us encourage one another all the more…” (Hebrews 10:24). It is, of course, essential that the ‘assembling together times’ are times of mutual encouragement—especially through the teaching from Scripture—and through songs/hymns of worship that nurture and develop our discipleship.
One doesn’t have to look to closely at the above passage of Scripture to realise the importance of Jesus’ words—that Christ’s followers should enter a place/be in a place by themselves, without others, so that they could commune directly with God. Indeed, the prayer Christ advocates is one of an intimacy which essential to Kingdom Life—on earth rather than in heaven. This is all about the impact of Christ followers wherever they may be. According to Craig S. Keener[i], “Jesus probably adapts an earlier form of what became a basic synagogue prayer—the Kadish…Jesus prayed the prayer on the basis of an intimate relationship that denotes a respectful dependence and affectionate intimacy. When Jewish people called God by the Old Testament title ‘Father’ the title connote intimacy as well as respect and dependence. Jesus summons his disciples to appropriate this intimacy more deeply still.” The point here is that the prayer relates to the personal life and commitment of God’s people—so that when the prayer is uttered (from the heart—even in a private place) it is a prayer of commitment to God’s ideal for his people—so that there would be an increasing presence of the will of God as witnessed through those committed to God’s cause—specifically to the disciples of Christ throughout the ages—until the Parousia. NB. The ‘Lord’s Prayer’, surely, is not an affirmation for the renewal of the earth, but rather, it is for the will of God to reign ‘on earth as in Heaven’—in and through those redeemed by the atoning/renewing work of Christ. We might look back over the last two thousand years and wonder what difference the presence of the redeemed have made. We don’t, of course, have all the data—though we may assume that God does. What we do know though is that, without such a presence the history we look back on will have been so much darker—and the present—who can say.
The Lord’s Prayer is a cry for liberation—a cry echoed by Paul in Romans 8:20,21 where the apostle refers to GOD’s subjugation of the earth (Genesis chapter 3) It is a heart-felt prayer—that “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” It is a cry for the continued salvation of a lost humanity; Ergo it is a cry that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Theologian Charles Sherlock[ii] draws a sharp distinction when he distinguishes between the imago Dei before and after Christ—suggesting that “Israel’s witness to the creation of the human race as a whole, in the image of God, is not strongly affirmed in the New Testament (though not contested) pales into insignificance in the light of Christ’s redeemed humanity, i.e., that “…the term ‘image’ (eikon) is not used for humankind in the New Testament apart from reference to Christ.” (P50). Sherlock’s point being that [in] Christ the perfect image is being formed. In the light of this it is reasonable to suggest that the prayer that Christ taught was that which his followers should pray—so that the Kingdom might be realised in and through their witness to (an already) decaying, dying world. NB. There is no suggestion in Scripture that Satan or the fallen (though both continue to have an injurious effect on the world) but that God allows the ensuing state of affairs to continue.
‘The Lord’s Prayer’ is not a prayer given in order that God may be coerced into renewing the planet rather that, through the witness of the Church the world might realise the love and grace of God—found only in Christ. Is it not the case that God’s salvific work is, in some way, bound to ‘Planet Earth’—the ‘land’ from which all biological life has its origins—that any notion of ‘salvation’ has to relate to Planet Earth’s renewal. The notion that Earth is the place on which God shall place the ‘re-created’ (aka regenerated) has more to do with eschatological conjecture, i.e., the repair of the biosphere and the immediate cosmos, than it has to do with God’s ‘purposes’ (goal) for humankind, i.e., ‘second-chance’ Homo sapiens—a scenario that might be entitled ‘Gardener’s Return’. It seems that ‘Nature’ alone can bring about most things—perhaps with a little help from an unidentifiable and unknowable creator. It is ‘the praying [down] of this newly to be regenerated world that is the criteria rather than ‘allow’ for a greater destiny for both humankind and any possible ‘New Worlds’ God may be allowed to bring into being; this is not to say that the Earth has no, present or future significance—neither is there a suggestion that humankind has no responsibility—will receive no chastisement for its failure regarding the governance of the beautiful Blue Sphere called Planet Earth. But this is not the whole story. God’s purposes for His creation may, indeed, not fit in with the views of: ‘Latter Day Environmentalists’, Process Theologians, Openness Theologians or even, dare I say, Theistic Evolutionists. Obviously, we would not expect ‘God’s Purposes’ to fit in with Pantheists or even (as has already been alluded to) Panentheists (the view that ‘all is in God’).
[ii] ‘The Doctrine of Humanity’,IVP, 1996