Praying the passion
The sacrificial death of Jesus must shape not only our thinking, but also our praying. When we look at the cross through the lens of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13), we see God and our place in his kingdom in a new light.
“Hallowed be thy name”
After Sunday school, a child told his mother that he’d learned God’s first name: “Every time we pray, we say, ‘Harold be thy name!’”
“Hallowed” means holy, sanctified, honoured. Not only an address of praise to the Father, Jesus’ words are a call to his people to represent him honourably.
1. God establishes his brand
A thousand years before Jesus, an old man with a secret past is grazing flocks of sheep on the mountainside. He looks up to see an amazing sight: a bush on fire, but not burning up. And here he meets God. Moses asks, “What is your name?” In ancient times, names revealed character. Really, what he’s asking is “What kind of God are you?”
God answers, “I Am” (written in Hebrew as YHWH, pronounced Adonai, translated LORD), a name that reveals his mystery, history, and activity. “I am that I am” – he’s eternal, dependent on nothing, alive without birth, like a flame that burns without fuel. And he is the God he’s always been: “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He is a God who does what he is doing: “I am with you” to save the weak, the enslaved, the oppressed.
I’m not a fan of the ad industry, but there’s one thing that we can learn from it: branding. Branding creates associations, helping viewers call up an identity whenever they see a logo or tagline. God is “branding” himself at Sinai, so that every time his people hear his name they’ll remember the eternal mystery, faithful history, and saving activity of God.
God’s name booms like thunder throughout the Exodus story: “And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 7:5), “I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live;…so that you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land” (Exodus 8:22). The 10 plagues, the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, the wilderness wanderings, the giving of the Law at Sinai all drive home the meaning of the great I Am: God is the God who saves.
2. Israel takes her husband’s name
The prophets proclaim this passionate God who comes to save his people, comparing them to a husband and wife. Just as a wife traditionally takes her husband’s name, God’s people are intimately connected to God’s name. Their behaviour affects God’s reputation.
When Israel is living a holy life, God’s name is honoured. But when Israel falls away, it’s an invitation for pagan nations to mock God by saying, “These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land” (Ezekiel 36:20).
Ezekiel says God will “show the holiness of [his] great name, which has been profaned among the nations…” by bringing Israel back into their own land, cleansing them from impurities and idols, and giving them “a new heart” that will be moved to follow his decrees (Ezekiel 36:23–27). Spurred on by the prophets, Israel prays for the sanctification of the name, not as an abstract, spiritual-sounding phrase, but as a plea for God to forgive their sin, rescue them from their enemies, and bring them back home.
3. The name puts on a body
This, then, is the prayer Jesus prays: “Our Father in heaven, show us what your name reveals: you are the God who saves your people from their sins, from their homelessness, from the slavery of sin and death.”
Jesus tells us to call on God to reactivate the power of his name in the life of his people. And as Jesus teaches his disciples this prayer, he begins to fulfill it: he heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, lifts people out of the holes they’ve dug for themselves. He forgives sins, delivers from demons, raises the dead. He embodies that saving name in everything he does.
On the night he is betrayed, Jesus once again calls upon the name: “I have revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world…. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me…. I have made your name known to them, and will continue to make it known [in what I am about to do]” (John 17:6, 11, 26).
The name of God is ultimately revealed in the suffering love of Jesus. As we eavesdrop on Jesus in the upper room, we recognize we are on ground holier than Mount Sinai, in the presence of a mystery greater than any burning bush. We see the light of the world walking toward the darkness, ready to be snuffed out for us.
“Hallowed be your name” – Jesus is about to answer his prayer himself by doing everything it takes for God’s name to be honoured. He’s going to take on himself the full weight of our dishonouring of God’s name, so we might be purified and God’s reputation exalted.
“To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). If you haven’t taken on God’s name on as your brand and as your married name, I challenge you to trust the I Am and watch for what kind of rescue he sends you.
If you’ve decided to follow Jesus, how are you reflecting God’s name, the name that means the God who saves, the God who comes to the weak, the helpless, the lost? As we pray, may this name sear our souls, so that his character shapes all we do.
“Give us this day our daily bread”
If “you are what you eat,” then every day, most of us are, to some degree, bread. Jesus’ petition begins with a request for daily bread, the biblical symbolism of which goes far beyond physical nourishment.
1. Frosted flakes in the wilderness
Bread plays a huge role in God’s rescue of his people from Egyptian slavery. Israel has seen God perform mighty, faith-building wonders, but when they get into the wilderness, it’s amazing what a bit of hunger does to their convictions.
God hears their cry and responds: he gives them Wonder Bread! It shows up every morning like frost on the ground. From their experience, we learn that God is the provider. We might start to think these necessities of life – food, water, clean air, shelter – come to us automatically, or worse, that we deserve them. Jesus teaches us to ask for daily bread to remind us we are not self-sufficient or self-made people. We are always needy. And God provides.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” This is a community prayer, which raises a problem: many do not have the bread and water to survive. In 2010, the UN determined it would take $11.3 billion annually to reach their five-year goal of cutting in half the number of people without access to clean water. Compare this to the $21 billion the USA spent in 2011 on (mostly unnecessary) bottled water. Our choices affect whether or not this prayer is answered.
Jesus invites us to pray for daily bread and to be a part of the answer.
2. Time warp in the upper room
Jesus chooses Passover bread, the bread of affliction and new life as the “peg” on which to hang the meaning of his own suffering and death.
Passover is Jewish independence day. The meal is full of symbolic actions: by breaking unleavened bread, eating bitter herbs, and drinking wine, Jewish people are transported back to the Exodus. They become the slaves in Egypt, and await again the gift of freedom.
When you mess with a people’s symbols – for example, by burning a flag or challenging universal Medicare – you touch a raw nerve. But Jesus messes with Passover. He says new things about the bread and cup to show God is making a new kind people, defined not by heritage, but a will to follow him as Messiah.
He breaks the bread and says, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19–20). When we gather around the Lord’s Table, we enter a time warp that takes us back to the Passover and Jesus’ upper room, and forward to the promised heavenly banquet.
3. Communion: Calling God to action
In communion, we remember Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, but there’s another side to the remembering. In the Bible, God also remembers (Exodus 2:24). God is not absent-minded; “remembering” means his awareness moves him to act. We ask the Bread of Life to return and complete the kingdom work he began. We remind the Lord of his covenant with us through Jesus.
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Looking backward, looking forward. As we pray for “daily bread” we’re challenged not to get too comfortable. To live in the knowledge that God’s not finished with this world yet. It’s moving toward a climax when Jesus will return in glory to transform this broken world into the new heaven and new earth where peace will be at home.
God give us the grace to swallow the gospel whole, so we become good news to our neighbours. And may God fill us with a deep longing for the Lord’s return, when we will taste and see how good the Lord truly is.
Return to praise
“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” We end the Lord’s Prayer with this return to praise (a doxology not found in the earliest manuscripts, but added by early Christians), that brings our focus back to a holy God.
What kind of kingdom is this? A kingdom with room for all.
What kind of power? A power that bleeds love, one that can outlast the death grip of hate.
What kind of glory? The glory of obedience, of a God who accomplishes his purposes, who finishes what he begins.
A God who calls us to take his name and become his body to the end of the age. Amen.
Artwork: Gen Tsuboi is an artist and interior designer from Japan. This untitled kirie (paper cut) artwork was commissioned for the Mennonite Heritage Gallery, Winnipeg, “In His Image” project. Gen’s passion is creating Bible-inspired kirie art, and he sees it as his mission and witness.