On earth, as in heaven: the key to The Lord’s Prayer
The lectionary for this Sunday contains a very familiar passage in the Gospel reading. It is the short version, recorded by Luke, of the prayer we name as The Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father in heaven: hallowed be your name; holy be your name, sanctified and special, set apart and sacred. So we pray, each Sunday, or perhaps even each day of the week.
The Lord’s Prayer. The prayer, given to us by Jesus, recited by followers of Jesus through the ages, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Quaker. These are words that we all can say, that we all do pray, words that we all hope for, that we all believe in.
In this prayer, we address God as holy and sanctified, and we express our deepest hopes: may your kingdom come, may your will be done; and then, we make three requests: give us bread for the day, forgive us our sins, and deliver us from evil; before we close by affirming that this God is, indeed, the one to whom the kingdom, the power and the glory belong, closing our prayer with words which echo the prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, some three millennia ago.
It seems to me that a central claim is made in the second of those two hopes that we pray each and every time we offer The Lord’s Prayer: your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
This phrase articulates a hope which is at the heart of our faith: a desire that life on earth, in the here and now, will fully reflect what we envisage and anticipate that life in heaven, life after death, life beyond the immediate, will be like.
In a sense, your will be done is simply a repetition of the first hope in this prayer:
your kingdom come. The kingdom is at the heart of the message of Jesus; the hope for God’s sovereign rule, as it is in the heavenly realm, where lambs lie down with lions, where peace will reign supreme, where justice marks everything that is done; the hope that this kingdom becomes a reality here and now, in our time and in our place, here on earth. Where the kingdom is, there God’s will is done.
So this is not a prayer that is oriented to an imagined future. It is not a prayer about a time and place beyond us. It is not a prayer about being saved in order to enter into heaven; it is a prayer that is focussed on what is needed in daily life to ensure that the signs of the kingdom are manifest in our midst, to ensure that the will of God is done in our lives.
When we pray, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we cry out for justice to be done, for the way of God to be a reality for all people. In my mind, a key saying of Jesus is this:Seek first and foremost the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness. That’s a clear statement of the need to place justice, righteousness, ethical living, obedience to the call of the Gospel, at the heart of everything that we do in our daily lives.
That’s what righteousness is: a quality of living that comes from the very heart of God and is communicated to people of faith, a quality of living that expresses the Gospel in words and deeds, in attitudes and actions.
When we pray, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we affirm our hope for creation, we yearn for the flourishing of every human life on the planet. Paul writes to the Romans, informing them that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and in his second letter to the Corinthians, he offers the vision of what will result from that labouring: a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
In this vision, Paul articulates his deepest hope, not only for the promised future, but even now, for the present. The groaning in labour will result, Paul is sure, in a transformed world, a transformed community, a new society even here and now in our midst.
When we pray, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we are praying that “the renewal and reconciliation of all creation” will be a reality in our lives, our families, our community, our nation. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself … and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. That’s how the passage from 2 Corinthians continues.
This is about what is happening now, around us, in our midst. So Paul continues: So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. The ministry of reconciliation is central to our task. Reconciliation, here and now, within our community.
That verse, 2 Cor 5:19, is an important verse as it is the only biblical verse explicitly quoted, and referenced, in the Basis of Union of the Uniting Church. It is the shortest form of the charter for UCA people!
When we pray, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we express our hope that caring compassion will mark all that the followers of Jesus do. Jesus looked on him with compassion, or a similar kind of phrase, we find eight times in stories across three of our Gospels. Jesus looked at the crowd and had compassion on them.
An attitude of compassion, of sharing in the delights and sorrows of people we encounter, is central to who we are, as followers of Jesus. These stories are told, to provide us with models of the way that we are to relate to others in this life.
When we pray, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we affirm our belief that hospitality and welcome are at the heart of the Gospel and are central to our discipleship. There are many scenes in the Gospels where Jesus sits at table, invited to share in a meal with his hosts, engaging in table talk about matters of importance.
Indeed, one of the reasons that I really like the Gospel of Luke, which was the focus of my doctoral research and writing, is that this is the Gospel where we most often find Jesus, reclining at table, sharing a meal: in the house of a Pharisee, in the house of a tax collector, in the upper room with his closest followers, on the road to Emmaus, and again in the room in Jerusalem after his resurrection. Sharing with others at table can be a rich and full expression of the hospitality of the Gospel.
When we pray, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, we hope for abundant grace and liberating hope. Paul, in the latter chapters of Acts, persistently affirms that he is being tried because of his hope. Now I stand here on trial on account of my hope, he affirms as he stands in Caesarea before Agrippa and Bernice, my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship day and night.
And that hope is something that he worked diligently and persistently to see coming to reality, in the new communities of faith that he established, nurtured, and encouraged, in his years as apostle to the Gentiles.
So there are multiple examples in scripture, of the ways that people of faith are praying, hoping, and working to make that prayer become a reality in our own time: your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Image by Shrestha Aajib.
Rev. Dr John Squires was formerly Principal of Perth Theological Hall. He is currently undertaking an Intentional Interim Ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Church.