Say What? The Lord’s Prayer and Lent

If you happened to be at any of the Cathedral services on Ash Wednesday you are aware that during Lent we will be using “the other” form of the Lord’s Prayer provided in the Prayer Book. Rest assured this is not change just for the sake of change.

Over time we develop a combination of comfort and ease with all sorts of things familiar. They may be good for us; some may be not so good. Sometimes we become so familiar with things we do or say we can do them without giving them any thought at all. It’s as if we develop some sort of reflex or autopilot.

Now, the words of the Lord’s Prayer are so familiar they are almost elemental. They come to us from Our Lord, in response to the disciples’ request that Jesus teach them how to pray. The words acknowledge the existence of the Divine Creator in the heavenly realm, and the Creator’s holiness. It is a bidding for God’s reign to come, and for God’s will to take precedence in our realm as well as the heavenly one. The prayer recognizes God as the source of our sustenance, and is a plea for forgiveness as we ourselves forgive. Often we add a Gloria at the end in praise of God’s goodness. These words of prayer are a gift to us that is both a beginning point in our conversation with God, and something we can turn to when in times of stress, fear, woundedness, or crisis we don’t know what to pray.

However, this elemental familiarity can make us numb or lazy to the depth and power of what we are praying. In the weeks leading up to Lent, I was particularly struck by the difference between the words “trespasses” (found in the form of the prayer we are most accustomed to using) and “sins” (found in the alternate version). One can seem so minor, and the other so stark. When considered in this light, how much are we really asking, or receiving, when we ask for the release from our “trespasses.” Release from our sins on the other hand …. Even more of a challenge presents itself when we then consider the enormity of being forgiven our sins, but only insofar as we are willing to meet the challenge of forgiving others.

The different words can be jarring. We might even stumble over them, but that is exactly the point. By setting aside the familiar for the next forty days, we can be challenged out of our spiritual autopilot. Challenged to be changed by the starkness of what we are really saying.

Say what? Just that this seems to be precisely what the prophet Joel (from Joel 2, one of the Ash Wednesday readings) is getting at by calling us to return to God with all our hearts. Not at all something we can accomplish on autopilot.

May yours be a holy Lent.