Luther once wrote, “The Lord’s Prayer is the greatest martyr on earth… Everybody tortures and abuses it; few take comfort and joy in its proper use.” Instead, Luther says, it is “prattled and chattered so irreverently.” And thus it is the true Lenten prayer.
God’s kingdom draws near to us in it, right here among us, but unrecognized for what it really is. Prayed eloquently, clearly, powerfully every day, but its message not taken to heart. Working miracles — feeding not thousands but millions daily and delivering us from fevers and blindness and storms at sea, driving out the evil one himself. Yet it is abused, mocked, even crucified.
The abuse heaped on the Lord’s Prayer is mostly non-bloody. It’s not usually cursing, spitting, driving nails. Mindlessly praying through it is generally more a matter of misunderstanding, seeing it simply as a great teacher or example or miracle worker. The abuse is usually a matter of not understanding that the Lord’s Prayer is the true Lenten prayer.
It’s not understanding that the Lord’s Prayer is all about the cross.
But where is the cross in the prayer? We speak to our Father, not the Son. We don’t mention the what Christ did for us; we ask for things, and we’ve learned that the seven petitions are quite a list of the things we need. We’ve added a clause that acknowledges God’s power and glory, but there’s no mention of his humiliation. Where’s the cross in this Lenten prayer?
Oh, there’s the petition about forgiveness, and we know that required Jesus’ death for sin. The fact is, though, the cross is way more up-front than that.
The cross of Jesus Christ is in the first two words, “Our Father.” With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. Where’s the cross in that? Well, how is God our true Father? By our sin we became children of the devil, slaves to sin, so that we could never again call God our Father (Jn 8:42-44). Unless we had been reconciled to God, and that’s the cross.
The whole Lenten story is about Jesus restoring us to God by taking upon himself and thus taking away from us the sin that separated us from God. Calling God “Our Father,” is saying that Christ the crucified has brought us back together with God, made us his true children again. That’s where the prayer begins. There’s no Lord’s Prayer without it. From there, because we are back together with the God who does hold the Kingdom and all power and all glory, we go on to say, knowing, “Yes, yes, it shall be so.”
Perhaps had they, had we, understood this, they, we, would not have crucified the Lord of Glory’s Prayer. So let it be preached in these days of Lent.