Our Father, Who Art in Heaven – Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom Come!
This Holy Week, I invite you to journey with me through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
A survey published this week shows that only half of primary school age children in Britain now know the words of this prayer, dear to us as the prayer which our Saviour himself taught us.
Such surveys are good for getting news headlines – but less good at telling us how many people really grasp the meaning of this beautiful prayer, and what it means to pray it with devotion. If we do not pray the words with gratitude, and cultivate a humble attitude, it remains a mere platitude.
Thy Kingdom Come! Jesus, we recognise you as King! We welcome you! We acclaim you! Hosanna! We will live with you in charge and ourselves as your obedient subjects!
This is the message implicit in the cry of the crowd on Palm Sunday. Waving branches, using the word Hosanna, following Jesus in his procession – all these elements pointed to Jesus as the one accepted as leader. And let’s face it, it’s good to have a leader. Someone to take the hard decisions, so we don’t have to. Someone to take the flak, so we don’t have to. Someone to enjoy the perks, such as they are, which go with the seat of power…
Leadership isn’t easy. This week we have seen the Prime Minister having to explain his “kitchen suppers” with party supporters. We don’t particularly want our taxes to go to fund political parties, but we get uncomfortable when leaders – of any political party – seem too close to major donors. What is a leader to do?
This time last year, we saw the people of Libya, hesitatantly at first, shouting slogans against Colonel Gaddafi, and in support of the Opposition. Many Libyans made the difficult decision to put themselves in harm’s way by taking up arms for regime change. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the use of violence in that conflict, we recognise that change would not happen merely because of the support of the many, but also required the actions of a few.
Just in the last week, the news has been of a coup in Mali – a country where no national leader has ended a term of office without being ousted by violence or illness – and of Burma, where after 20 years of house arrest, a reluctant Government is permitting Aung San Suu Kyi to run for Parliament. These events remind us that even in the 21st century, in some nations, to aspire to leadership is to put your liberty, or your life, on the line.
The King or Queen who ascends the throne of England is anointed with Holy Chrism* as a sign that they share in the Kingship of Christ. On this day when we remember Christ as King, let us pray for our politicians who continue that kingly role of leadership, whether or not they themselves profess Christian faith, and pray for those who must decide whether to commit their nation to war, whether to commit troops to prevent ethnic cleansing – or even whether to advise motorists to stock up on petrol. These decisions are not easy – and our politicians deserve our prayer as well as our criticism.
Today, Our Lord Jesus steps on to the political stage. His decision to requisition a donkey and ride it among the crowds was a gesture which the people would have understood: the King of the line of David would enter Jerusalem on a donkey. Until now, Jesus has resisted being pushed forward as King. Now he knows it is God’s time, and so he steps into the public gaze not only as Rabbi and Healer, but as the one who allows the crowds to cry: “Hosanna! Be our King!”
Our earthly leaders take decisions most of us would rather not have to make. Our heavenly King makes a decision that no-one else had the power to make: to lay down his own life as the price for the sin of the human race. Others have followed his example in laying down their lives for their friends – St Maximilian Kolbe for a Jewish concentration camp inmate, St Gianna Molla for her unborn child – but only One could ever pay the price for our sin.
Today we acclaim our King. If we would truly call Him King – if we would truly pray “Thy Kingdom Come!” – this must reshape our attitude to life. Do we keep his commandments? Do we love our neighbour? Have we kept a good Lent and worked on those sins which we know still trip us up from time to time? And have we in our hearts true gratitude for what Christ Our King did, paying the debts that we could never afford by our own poor riches?
The sign that we understand the power of his sacrifice is our gratitude. The sign that we have taken him as our King is that we cultivate a humble attitude. Without these things, we can memorise and say the Lord’s Prayer, but it remains a mere platitude. So let us, this Holy Week, meditate on the Lord’s Prayer; let us turn to the Saviour, and to the Father whose love He revealed to us, and with our lives, with our actions, with our devotion to Christ and yes, even with our words, declare: Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Kingdom Come! Thy Kingdom Come!
* I am referring to the symbolism of the act using what the Anglican Communion calls Chrism, and am not intending to claim an equivalence between Catholic and Anglican episcopal orders and the consequent sacramental status of consecrated oil.