(Note: This is one of two reflections on The Lord’s Prayer. )
I had an accident ten years ago that put me in an ambulance, in extreme pain, on a washboardy, ice-rutted road in February. Every bump was agony. I’d been jocular with the EMTs and worked hard to be normal during the loading-phase, but the actual journey cancelled all unnecessary speech. Struggling to avoid shrieking, instead I began to say the Lord’s Prayer. Out loud. Quite loud, actually. The ambulance people politely looked away. The prayer helped, a lot. I wasn’t concentrating on the meaning of the words so much as I was relying on their soothing familiarity. The prayer kept the pain at bay-a mantra.
That was before I answered a call to ministry that has led me by a roundabout path to this rural parish in south-western Nova Scotia, where it’s my privilege to serve as the priest and pastor to the people in Digby, Weymouth, Sandy Cove and points in between. I’m new at this. Ordained in 2011, the paint still wet on my collar, I discovered early that a large part of parish ministry was all about funerals.
In today’s world, the women, men, teens and children, numb with grief, who go to the funerals of their loved ones are most commonly unconnected with churchland. Even so, many know the Lord’s Prayer. No, it’s not recited in schools anymore. Perhaps it’s still taught at home. At funerals, we print it in the bulletin. And when we get to that part, even though the congregational participation may not have been very robust up to that point, when the Lord’s Prayer is said, every voice is heard. We make sure to use the old version. It gathers us in.
Yet, if I were to offer a study session on the prayer, let’s say with my Thursday morning Bible study group-a collection of men and women, Anglican and Baptist, inhabiting all points on a right-to-left theological spectrum-we’d probably get tangled up on the patriarchal implications of “Our Father” and stay there until lunchtime. We might not agree about its precise theological meaning, but nonetheless we pray it together, week after week. It’s a kind of ecumenical glue.
The residents of our local long-term care facility come from a variety of religious backgrounds: some have no church experience at all, and many are dementia patients, unable to communicate. Our monthly services there are well attended, though. There may not be much discernible participation in the liturgy, but when we get to the Lord’s Prayer, lips move, voices are raised and gazes focus. It’s as if the Lord’s Prayer lives in the body-that those who have known it and prayed it, and have it by heart, embody it.
And that, perhaps is part of our call as Christians on a journey together, to embody the prayer Jesus taught his disciples-so that we may be a sign to today’s world that God is truly with us.
The Rev. Mel Malton is a parish priest in the community of Digby-Weymouth, in the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Editor’s note: A correction has been made to the name of the diocese in the credit line.