The Lord’s Prayer in a Time of Pandemic
If you are reading this before noon on Wednesday, March 25, I invite you to pause at 12:00 p.m. and join Christians of all varieties, from around the world, in praying the “Lord’s Prayer.”
Last week, Pope Francis made this proposal:
In these days of trial, as humanity trembles at the threat of the [coronavirus] pandemic, . . . all Christians join their voices together to heaven. I invite the heads of the churches and the leaders of all the Christian communities, together with all Christians of the various confessions, to invoke the Almighty, the All Powerful God, by reciting contemporaneously the prayer that Our Lord Jesus has taught us.
I therefore invite everyone to recite the Our Father at midday on March 25 next, on the day when many Christians recall the annunciation to the Virgin Mary of the Incarnation of the Word [March 25 is nine months before Christmas], so that the Lord may listen to the unanimous prayer of all his disciples that are preparing to celebrate the victory of the Risen Christ.
Noon Rome time was 6:00 am this morning in Little Rock, but it seems that many Christians are praying at noon in their own time zones so that there is a continual cascade of shared prayer, on the hour, around the world, throughout the day.
For skeptical Baptists and others: there is nothing magical about simply repeating these words, or saying them at the same time. This is simply an invitation to voluntary participation (an invitation also officially extended to the Baptist World Alliance). But it’s an invitation I hope you’ll accept.
In fact, I’d like to make an additional proposal: during these days of disruption, consider setting a prompt to pause and pray the Lord’s Prayer on or around each third hour (12:00, 3:00, 6:00, 9:00 . . . ).
Again, there is nothing special about those times, but they are traditional markers of time for prayer. It would certainly be a good idea to add your own spontaneous, personal prayers, to read a Psalm, etc., during these prayer pauses. There are also many other prayer resources we can share with each other.
Here are just a few reasons why I recommend this practice:
1) Solidarity: Re-membering the Body (“Our Father”): This past Sunday, Preston began our online worship program with a responsive reading. All of us were invited to join in, starting with a short section which borrowed from 1 Corinthians 12:
We are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
If any member suffers, all suffer its pain.
If one member is honored,
All share its joy.
Some of our 2BC folks helped us re-member who we are as the body of Christ this past Sunday by sharing photos of their families as they created a special time and place for watching the congregational worship recorded online. It was so fun and encouraging to see, even if it was a poignant reminder of our inability to be present with each other, face-to-face.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer together, and at regular, shared times, gives us another opportunity to re-member our ties to others, even as we remain physically separated in order to reduce the risks to our neighbors. It allows us to remember: all those—like Liz Ellis– on the front lines of providing health care while struggling to sustain their own health (and their families’– see yesterday’s powerful reflections from Chris and Liz); all those struggling with the virus—whether at home, or under direct care (perhaps we might pause to breathe alongside those struggling for breath and especially those requiring intervention in order to continue breathing; everyone who needs to interact with healthcare systems under severe strain; all leaders of local, regional, national and international organizations, that they seek and receive wisdom for providing guidance and as they make high-stakes decisions; and so, so much more—all of the personal griefs brought about by a world suddenly upended (for example, high school and college seniors coming to terms with the fact that many traditional rites of passage will likely not take place, or not in the same way, this year).
I am not aware of any positive COVID-19 tests in Antarctica, but other than that, this pandemic is affecting life on all inhabited continents of our planet. Just yesterday, India declared a national shutdown in an effort to reduce the risk of a catastrophic spread of the virus throughout its population of 1.3 billion people. Let’s pause regularly simply to place ourselves in God’s presence (as we always are), beside our brothers and sisters around the world, and acknowledge our shared needs (“It’s me, O Lord . . . . standing in the need of prayer”).
2) Landmarks in the Wilderness: this is such a strange time and many of our normal rhythms are lost. Weeks feel like months. The distinction between weekdays and weekends is blurry at best. Events are cancelled. March Madness—of the basketball variety, at least—is non-existent (this has been especially hard for me).
In addition, we have absolutely no guarantees about how long this state of affairs will endure. Therefore, there are no checkpoints by which we can measure our progress toward the end. For my own situation, in thinking about Lake Nixon’s people, plans, and programs, and when speaking with others about how we think things will unfold, I have repeatedly described the future as a thick fog. We can prepare for the challenges to grow, even as we pray for a quick reprieve.
The Sabbath—setting apart one day of the week as holy–became for the people of Israel a regular landmark, even a “place” to dwell, especially in times of wilderness wandering or when exiled from home. More than any temple or physical edifice, this segment of time was a central way to experience God’s ongoing presence, no matter what disruptions were occurring in the world of space and things. Regular pauses for prayer can be mini-Sabbaths for us all, as we make our way through this strange territory together.
These are just two practical or “formal” reasons for pausing regularly each day to pray the Lord’s Prayer. A simple suggestion: each time you pray it, find a particular phrase that seems to call out to you and dwell on it until the next time you pray (you may find that you stay with the same phrase for quite a while). There is seemingly inexhaustible depth to this prayer, and the order of its words is not random, either.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some reflections on a few phrases from the Lord’s Prayer. If I remember correctly, I believe that Dr. Gloer, my own teacher, has provided some teaching on the Lord’s Prayer at 2BC. If that’s right, the best advice I can give is to urge you to find any notes you may have from him and review them.
Today is a unique opportunity to pray in the conscious knowledge that we are joining with all kinds of Christians, everywhere, and sharing these precious words together. It’s also a traditional day to remember the time in which a young Palestinian Jewish girl was told that she was “highly favored” by God and that the Lord was “with you.” (I’m attaching a painting of this scene that’s become one of my favorites). May we hear those words spoken to each of us as well.