Did you learn how to recite The Lord’s Prayer when you were little? Back in the day (maybe even still today, in some places), The Lord’s Prayer was the first thing you memorized in Sunday School. Or Confirmation class. Or even in school. It was pretty much everywhere.
I remember memorizing it in Sunday School, along with the classics: the Ten Commandments, The 23rd Psalm and The Beatitudes. There were probably others, but those I still remember. Mostly. I'm pretty sure I could recite the Lord’s Prayer from memory when I was five or six. With some interesting pronunciation, probably. Words like "hallowed," "forgive," "trespasses" and "temptation" are a challenge for a little person to get their tongue around. Seems ironic that those are also the words that adults often have trouble with understanding. The meaning, at least.
That’s the thing: the meaning. I remember memorizing the words long before I understood what they meant. It was even longer still before I started to wonder about them and how I might be living them.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. These days, one can’t always assume that people know it. That may not be such a bad thing: new things can be fresh. And there's newer translations that might be better to understand than the old thees, thous and thines.
That's the thing about The Lord's Prayer: the balance between what it means to us as a piece of our ritual heritage and what it has to say to us.
For many, the meaning of the prayer isn't just the words, but the connection to our sense of community. We all say it together. It's the one thing so many know together, that's common to different traditions and denominations. If we know it, that is. Imagine how you might feel if it’s assumed you know it from memory and you don’t. While everyone else is reciting it from memory, wouldn’t you feel left out? So much for belonging.
Note to self: if you’re going to use it, make sure that The Lord’s Prayer is always printed where everyone can see it.
I do love that community aspect of it. And to me, it's like a treasured hymn or song that we all know, but we might know slightly different words or variations of the tune, and that’s okay. We can still share in it all together and have our own distinctiveness. You, instead of thy, or maybe even mother or parent, instead of father.
I think that's all good. I'm not convinced that The Lords' Prayer was meant to be a set prayer. It might have been an example of how to pray, rather than "The One Prayer." I also don’t think it was meant to be just a community prayer. I think it was meant to be a personal prayer, too. More importantly, I think it bridges both. Jesus, I always remind myself, wasn’t an either/or kind of guy, but an and/with one.
This prayer is personal, this prayer is communal, this prayer is shared. In 'Speaking Christian,' the late theologian Marcus Borg wrote that "the Lord's Prayer is a summary of what mattered most to Jesus. When we pray this prayer, we are praying for what he was passionate about … we are praying for what God is passionate about. We are praying for God's dream for the world. To pray this prayer is to be invited, enlisted, into participation in God's passion and the passion of Jesus." We are invited, enlisted, together.