Of all of the elements that combine to form our liturgy, the most familiar may be the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. This prayer is used by many denominations and is part of popular culture and media. The words are lifted from Matthew 6:9-13 (which has a parallel in Luke 11:2-4) which is part of a series of teachings from Jesus about living one’s spirituality.
In the context of Matthew 6, the disciples ask Jesus how they should pray and he gives them instructions before providing the example.
He tells them that prayer should be simple and heartfelt. That we don’t need to deploy sophisticated arguments or theatrics to convince God to be attentive to us. Rather, we should express ourselves from an understanding that God is like a caring parent who knows and loves us.
As a part of our liturgy, however, the example of Jesus’s prayer is removed from its biblical setting and elevated to a ritualistic practice. It has been enshrined in a specific English translation that many consider to be its proper form, despite its outdated language. But if we become too attached to the ritual form of these words, we operate in the exact opposite of how Jesus was teaching in chapter 6.
We do not have an affinity for the way that Jesus taught us to pray, but for a particular way that someone taught us about how Jesus taught us to pray.
This practice of the Lord’s Prayer is an artifact of generations who came before us and modeled what it meant to be faithful Christians. It can also be a familiar point of reference for members of our community who have come to the Disciples of Christ from other denominations.
Yet if we can move beyond our commitment to a particular form, we open ourselves up to the greater tradition and legacy from the earliest Church, where the community would gather to remember and reflect on the sayings of Jesus in the language of their everyday lives.
Experiment: Read Matthew 6 in a few different translations, or at least in the pew Bible (New Revised Standard Version. What differences do you notice and why might translators decide to interpret the text that way?