I have been reciting the Lord’s Prayer since I was five years old. It was – for me, and perhaps for most of us in the Christian tradition, our first prayer. One of the reasons we keep saying it is because Jesus told us to. The Gospel for July 25 gives us the basic outline for the Lord’s Prayer, which was probably recited by Jesus in the now-dead language of Aramaic. It was then written down in Greek. It has since been translated into every language spoken around the globe. At the Lambeth Conference two summers ago, the daily Eucharist gave most of the gathered assembly – 700 bishops from around the world, spouses, staff and guests; an auditory taste of Pentecost, because we said the Lord’s Prayer in about seventy languages at once.
It is a powerful prayer, because when we pray as Jesus taught us, there is the sense that we are praying the words of Jesus. That we are even praying with Jesus.
But it is more than that. The Lord’s Prayer is a progressive prayer – not in a political sense but in a biblical one. It professes a faith and hope in progress – toward a freedom to which Jesus has paved the way. The Lord’s Prayer is deeply rooted in the trajectory of promise -- for everyone. I used to think that that “give us this day our daily bread” was my order from some holy menu – and that my family and I would have three meals on the table for the next day as long as I kept praying the prayer.
But it is not about me, or about you. It is about us. Not just some of us – but all of us. “Give us this day…” Which means that we need to participate in the promise in order for all of God’s people to have their daily bread.
“Forgive us our… as we forgive those…” If our participation in the promise of all being fed is going to have any chance of succeeding, we need to forgive. In the traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to forgive our trespasses; the contemporary version beseeches God to forgive us our sins. And God will. That is God’s promise. The real challenge is to us – that we forgive. Most translations of Luke’s Gospel have Jesus insisting that we forgive not just those who trespass or sin against us; but those who are indebted to us.
Forgive the debt. Let it go. That is the promise we make. It is not an economic protocol, but is rather a mandate that we see one another not in terms of what we owe – or are owed; but how we can work with Jesus’ promise to help set each other free. To help free all of us from the debts of oppression and resentment; and from the intransigence of systems that reward and punish on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or zip code. And to help provide “food enough” – be it the food of opportunity or education or shelter – or daily sustenance.
When we forgive, we live into a measure of freedom. When we are forgiven, we are unbridled from many of the dimensions of debt. The Lord’s Prayer is a clarion call to work with the living Christ to set people free. To help provide people with their basic human needs. How we deal with our ability to forgive, and participate in the discipline of giving, is an important measure of our integrity as a Christian community. That is the progress we are called to make. That is the promise we are invited to claim.