The prayer begins with the word ‘our’. Whilst often prayed alone, this is at heart a prayer said in a group or on behalf of a group. Even if we are physically alone, we pray this pray in company with the whole Christian Church throughout the world, both now and in the past and indeed in company with Jesus himself.
The group who prays is defined as those who think of God as ‘our Father’. This is a remarkable way to talk about our relationship with the creator of the universe. It roots us in our common ancestry and common humanity. We all have earthly fathers – whether we know them or not, whether we have a good relationship with them or not. This prayer says, regardless of your earthly Father, we have a common divine origin which unites us all in equality and in humility beneath the Father ‘which art in heaven’.
Our first prayer (petition) is that the Father’s name be hallowed. Hallowed means kept as holy, sacred, sanctified, set apart, special – and perhaps a little bit scary!.
A name is a way which we identify something as distinct from other things. Your name marks you out – that it is why it is on your passport, driver’s licence, credit card. It is a shorthand for all the complexity of you as a person with a history and a network of inter-relationships.
There were many names for God in the Old Testament. The most important, the divine name, was four Hebrew letters YHWH (the tetragrammaton) which were probably pronounced Yahweh and literally meant ‘I am. It places God at the heart of all being – the first, the essential and the ultimate ‘being’ in the universe. This name for God was thought to be so holy – so hallowed – that it could not be said out loud.
There is then a striking contrast between the intimacy of calling God ‘father’ and the reverence of not daring to speak his name. The implication of the prayer is not that we choose between them but hold them both as true.
Thoughts for prayer:
- Acknowledge God as the ultimate father
- Thank God for our creation
- Pray that we may be worthy to be called his children
- Place ourselves under God’s love and protection