“Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name”
Prayer is like any other conversation. When we call someone up, write them a letter or an email, send them a text or however else we may choose to communicate, we usually begin by greeting them by name and sometimes adding an endearment.
And so we begin our prayer to God in the same way – Our Father. This stresses the inclusivity of the relationship – God is our Father not just mine or yours. His love has no boundaries – we are all his children, we belong to Him, we are part of His family and thus our relationship is not just with Him but with each other, our sisters and brothers in Christ. I love that sense of family that this brings. As an only child I have never experienced what it is like to have a sibling and I always longed to be part of a big family. When I became a Christian not only did I revel in the knowledge that I had a relationship with God but also in the knowledge that I was now part of the biggest and best family in the world. There have been times in my life when that family has provided the love and care that it is a clear manifestation of the Gospel that Jesus proclaims – that we should love each other as He loves us. In times such as these, this has become increasingly important as we strive to care for each other, to connect and to ensure that no one feels isolated or in need.
Unfortunately however, the image of a father is not always a positive one. Not everyone will have grown up with an earthly father who is loving and caring so we need to be sensitive to that when we think about how we use the word Father in relationship to God. I am mindful of the image of God as He is portrayed in the book and film “The Shack”, as a generous and compassionate mother figure. God exists beyond the stereotypes of gender roles. It is impossible to define His being and important however we picture Him we do so in a way that is appropriate and comfortable for each of us.
For those gathered around Jesus, the Aramaic word He used “Abba” which is literally ‘daddy’ must have seemed incredibly informal. Jewish prayers commence with what is known as The Shema “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6 4-9)
The sentiments are basically the same but Jesus is encouraging us to draw close to God, to be part of a warm, loving relationship not a formal one
Then there is the question of location. Heaven means different things to different people. When I conduct a funeral I often try to articulate what heaven might look like for the person whose life we are celebrating. I wonder what Heaven looks like for you? We know that God’s kingdom is heaven and as Christians we are part of His mission for HIs kingdom to be created here on earth. We also know that God is not confined to Heaven, He is everywhere, He is with us in every moment of our waking lives and he watches over us as we sleep.
However we address God, we know that His name is holy, He is our great and awesome God, we are His family wherever we are, we are loved and all He asks of us is that we love Him and that we love our neighbours both near and far., never before has that been so important as it is now.