Offered for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 12, Year C)
We have been looking at the Gospel of Saint Luke for what he can teach us about the patterns of activity of the whole of life as lived by the faithful Christian. We are called to reconcile our lives to Jesus Christ. That is little more than pleasant-sounding sentiment unless we are taught just how to do that. That Our Lord was born, lived, died on a cross, was buried and rose again for the sins of everyone, all so that in rising to Heaven he would leave us lost, confused, and bewildered about how to actually follow him strikes me as simply ridiculous. But he did teach us religion, I strongly maintain. He said He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life: that implies religion. Hence the need to learn what religion actually involves.
We certainly learn by doing, and this is a part of the purpose of liturgy. To take one example, liturgy teaches us about repentance. At the beginning of our liturgy, we as a Body acknowledge that over the last week separateness from God has creeped in, as it inevitably does, and we acknowledge that we have yet to fully grow into the Love to which God calls us; and we pledge to delight in God’s will, and walk in God’s ways, so that all we do may give glory to His holy Name. Reconciling our lives to Jesus means all we do — whether here at the Altar being fed by Word and Sacrament, or in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces representing Jesus — is to give glory to God, as we are able and according to our gifts.
The Holy Spirit presents himself time and time again, in one opportunity after another each and every day of our life, to be guided toward the voice of Jesus. So that in hearing Him, we grow closer to him as he lives and moves and has His Being in us and all the creatures around us, all of whom are made through Him. Jesus calls us to Him that we may share more and more in the glory of the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We are here for unity with God, and God’s gift to us, given to us through our Baptism, is the capacity to accept what has been given through Jesus. All we need to do is say “Yes” to God when He makes Himself known to us. When we say “Yes” we consent to being closer to Him, being bound to him, tightly wrapped in His love.
It must be that religion, the activity of the faithful Christian, binds us to Love Incarnate. It must be that Love itself binds us, ties us up, and in so doing, gives ultimate freedom. For the activities called “religion” are gifts of Love given at the Day of Pentecost — baptismal fellowship that forms us in the teachings of the apostolic Church; gathering for the Breaking of Bread; and daily Prayer both personal and extemporaneous as well as from the teachings and tradition of the Church.
The patterns of religion, then, involve learning about our forgiving God in community; the asking for and receiving of necessary provisions; and the gathering and dispersing week-to-week in praise of God who has created all things past, present and future.
We can see that the Our Father prayer is the summary of the religious life. It contains, in concentrated form, the patterns of activity of a life growing in Love. Just as a field of vanilla beans is concentrated into vanilla extract, all of religion is concentrated into the Lord’s Prayer. “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come” is an ever-constant reminder that God has created all things, all creatures, and therefore is radically outside the bounds of time and space. “Give us each day our daily bread” asks God for what we need, and asks Jesus, the living bread, to share His Sacred Humanity with us to that we might feel, see, smell, hear, taste and think through his senses. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” asks for the coming of the Holy Spirit, who unites all creatures to their Creator and who allows us to find forgiveness in our heart. “And lead us not into temptation” acknowledges the triune God’s providential hand in all activities, who provides always a way out when the Devil tries to test us.
Clearly, the Lord’s Prayer is the most important prayer in all of Christianity. Of all the abundance of Jesus Christ’s teaching to us, He in fact only directly taught one prayer, and that is the Lord’s Prayer. The Church has recognized the importance of this prayer by making it central to its religion. It is said when the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood is on the altar, and it has always been said during the daily Offices. In fact, liturgical history indicates that the Lord’s Prayer was the first form of the daily Office. Evidence dating to the first century AD, or early in the second, shows that the Lord’s was ordered to be said by the Christian community three times a day, every day. It therefore was the official prayer of the early Church.
The Lord’s Prayer, then, is at the heart of Christian religion. It sums up the aims, aspirations and activity of the Christian life. And the reciting or chanting of the prayer itself became a central of the Christian family. Another gift of our Baptism is that we can be assured that if we respond to grace by participating in the Breaking of Bread each Sunday, and praying the Our Father on a daily basis — not because of duty but because it is a gift from Love Incarnate — we will grow in love and holiness. And there is nothing more infectious in this world, nothing more attractive to potential workers on the harvest, nothing more evangelistic in our neighborhoods, than love and holiness.
Cover image “The Synaxis of the holy and the most praiseworthy Twelve Apostles” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.