One of the great treasures of the Christian faith, which has been described as a ‘Summary of the whole Gospel’, is the Lord’s Prayer. All through history people have argued whether Jesus meant this to be a model for the way we pray, or a distinctive prayer that is unique to the Christian Faith. While I am very happy to say it is both a model and a particular prayer that marks our identity – I would also want to emphasise that from the earliest of days, this prayer has become an essential ingredient in our personal devotion and our liturgical life as God’s people.
The earliest document written after the New Testament is the Didache – the Teaching. It’s a document that opens our eyes to how early Christians worshipped and what they valued. This ancient document teaches us that the Lord’s Prayer and the Lord’s Supper were treasures given to us by Jesus, so to pray this prayer was regarded as a great privilege. In the liturgy of the early Church the priest introduced the Lord’s Prayer by saying: Make us worthy, O Lord, that we joyously and without presumption may make bold to invoke Thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say: Our Father…..
However, there are some today who find this prayer problematic because it starts with ‘Father’, and I have seen with concern how often this prayer is no longer used in public worship.
Those who argue for this approach say that this is a prayer to a patriarchal and authoritarian god, and so project their understanding of what it means to be a father onto God. We know that not all fathers act in ways that foster life, and over the years, due to people like Rosie Batty, we are more aware of the extent of domestic violence, and the need to counter such abuses.
One way of dealing with this is to hold before us an alternative to a violent and abusive father so as to re-write in our mind’s eye what all fathers should strive to be.And that’s what Jesus and the Gospels do for us when Jesus teaches us to address God as Father.
The patriarchal understanding of the divine name ‘Father’ was always a serious misunderstanding. To understand Jesus’ concept of ‘father’ it helps us to read the story of the ‘Waiting Father’ in Luke 15, often called the parable of the Prodigal Son. Czech Scholar, Jan Lochman writes “Here we see a wholly non-patriarchal father.
Against all prevailing laws and customs the father in the story of the prodigal son doesn’t stand in his son’s way but lets him go, even though it is a highly risky and misconceived freedom that the younger son chooses. And when the prodigal returns crushed, the father does not count up and expect repayment but runs to meet him. The father runs: unheard of action in the patriarchal code. That’s the kind of Father Jesus teaches us to pray to and it is a vital challenge to the idea of a patriarchal and authoritarian God.
Here God comes to meet us in love and compassion.