13 June 2016
On Prayer and Personhood
Here’s a scary thought: Prayer reveals who we are. It’s the most characteristically personal activity. Consider the Pharisee and the Publican.
The Pharisee, we’re told, prays to himself. He was a self-made man, full of his own deeds, with no room for God or for others. “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men; for I fast twice a week, and pay tithes of all I owe…not like that publican.”
The Publican stood afar off and didn’t lift his eyes to heaven. He saw nothing wrong that anyone else had done. He merely opens the depths of his broken heart to the merciful and man-loving God: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He alone went home justified by God.
But in both cases, prayer revealed the person.
What do my prayers reveal about me?
Consider all that I do in the course of a day.
I eat. I drink. I sleep. I feel pain and pleasure. All these reveal that I am an animal; for I share all these with the animals.
I think. I plot. I plan. I read and write. All these reveal that I am rational, like all other people and like the angels.
But none of these reveal who I am; they only show what I am. Prayer alone reveals my person. Prayer alone shows who I am.
Am I so busy pursuing animal appetites and worldly concerns that I forget to pray? When I was a little boy and sat down to lunch, I sometime started to dig in without praying. My grandma would stop me, saying, “Essen, nicht fressen”—“Eat like a human, not like an animal.”
Prayer is that most personal activity, because I open myself up before the Three-Person God. I open to him the depths of my being, and seek the depths of his. I bring before him all those other persons he has brought into my life, and offer my requests for them, and give thanks for them. To put it simply, in prayer I relate to God personally. That is why, when we pray, we begin with “Our Father.” Not just “Creator God,” which would make me just a creation. Not “My Father,” as if I stand apart from others, but Our Father. Here I include all those dear to me and not so dear, all my fellow Christians…indeed, every man and woman and child for whom Christ died and rose again.
Today’s Gospel is the high-priestly prayer of Christ—the real “Lord’s Prayer.” And it’s precious to us, because it reveals to us Who He is.
He begins by calling God “Father.” He doesn’t say, like we do, “Our Father,” but simply, “Father.”
And in so doing, he reveals himself the only Son of God, one in essence with the Father, as our Nicene Fathers confessed. He is the Father’s Son.
What is it, after all, to be Son? What does that word mean?
A son is the same nature as his father. Canine fathers produce canine sons. Human fathers produce human sons.
A son is a different person from his father. I am what my father was, but I am most certainly not who he was.
A son is, in some sense, from his father…in a way that the father is not from the son.
What about space and time? My son is younger than I am. He occupies a different place than I do.
But space and time are features of the created order. God is not a creature. So those don’t apply in him. From all eternity, the Father begot the Son; they are co-eternal. And when the Son became enfleshed, he did not leave the Father.
He is also our Savior. Even though his Person is divine, the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, that divine Person willed to join himself to our created nature. Without ceasing to be God, he became man, that through his life and death and rising we might share the divine life. Just as he is one in essence with the Father according to his divinity, he is one in essence with us according to his humanity. Begotten eternally of his Father without mother, he was born in time of a Mother, without father.
So he prays, “I have revealed your name to those you gave me.” In the ancient world, to know a thing’s name was to have access to it…to know it. When Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord, he revealed his name to the angel. But the angel did not reveal his name back. But Christ has revealed God’s name to us; and so we have access to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. And this, my friends, is to have salvation: to share the life of the Holy Trinity.
He keeps and preserves us, too. “Holy Father,” he says, “keep them in thy name.” You see, the cares and pleasures of our body, and the worries and delights of our rational soul, can work to draw us away from that saving name. So the Son asks the Father to keep us in the name; and the Father answers the prayer of the Son by sending forth the Holy Spirit, who prays in us with groans too deep for words…who intercedes for us according to the divine will.
And so we need not fear. For the Son intercedes for us with the Father. And soon we will celebrate that great day when He poured out the Spirit from the Father upon his waiting disciples. What can we say in response? What can we do? What else, but to walk through this life in prayer and praise and thanksgiving to the only true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.