Wednesday, March 16, 2011

N.T. Wright's 'The Lord and His Prayer'

My church is going through N.T. Wright's The Lord and His Prayer over the season of Lent. I started it this afternoon, and already the book has been a blessing to me. For today's post, I thought I would share a passage from the end of the chapter titled "Our Father in Heaven."
At the end of John's gospel, Jesus says to his followers: As the Father sent me, so I send you (John 20.21). We live between Advent and Advent; between the first great Advent, the coming of the Son into the world, and the second Advent, when he shall come again in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. That's why Advent is sometimes quite confusing, preparing for the birth of Jesus and at the same time preparing for the time when God makes all things new, when the whole cosmos has it's exodus from slavery. That apparent confusion, that overlap of the first and second Advents, is actually what Christianity is all about: celebrating the decisive victory of God, in Jesus Christ, over Pharaoh and the Red Sea, over sin and death -- and looking for, and working for, and longing for, and praying for, the full implementation of that decisive victory. Every Eucharist catches exactly this tension. 'As often as you break the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim, you announce, the death of the lord -- until he comes' (1 Corinthians 11.26).We come for our daily, and heavenly, bread; we come for our daily, and final, forgiveness; we come for our daily, and ultimate, deliverance; we come to celebrate God's kingdom now, and pray for it soon. That is what we mean when we call God 'Father'.
And as we do this, as we pray [the Lord's] prayer in this setting, we begin to discover the true pattern of Christian spirituality, of the Christian way of penetrating into the mystery, of daring to enter the cloud of unknowing. When we call God 'Father', we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain an darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray. But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. That is, may you be worshiped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed. And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos -- then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well. 
This, then, I dare say, is the pattern of Christian spirituality. It is not the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement. It is not the flight of the alone to the alone. It is neither simply shouting into a void, nor simply getting in touch with our own deepest feelings, though sometimes it may feel like one or other of these. It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world; of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and calling God 'Father'. 
Jesus took the risk of referring to God obliquely. In John's gospel, one of his regular ways of talking about God was 'the Father who sent me.' He wanted people to discover who the Father really was by seeing what he, Jesus, was doing. When we call God 'Father', we are making the same astonishing, crazy, utterly risky claim. The mission of the church is contained in that word; the failure of the church is highlighted by that word. But the failure, too, is taken care of in the prayer, and on the cross. Our task is to grow up into the Our Father, to dare to impersonate our older brother, seeking daily bread and daily forgiveness as we do so: to wear his clothes, to walk in his shoes, to feast at his table, to weep with him in the garden, to share his suffering, and to know his victory. As our Savior Jesus Christ has commanded and taught us, by his life and death, even more by his words, we are bold, very bold, -- even crazy, some might think -- to say 'Our Father'. 
~ N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (20-23)

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