We are all aware of the differences to be found in the many traditions of worship in the Church, such great variety of expression. There is, however, one practice that all Christian traditions follow. All pray, and although I am not familiar with all of the many styles of prayer I am certain that the majority end with the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, or something similar. The only public prayer that I can think of that does not is what we call ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
Prayers can vary so much. Some can be devout; and some even outrageous when God is told what He should be doing for us. Unhappily, the words, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’, because of their familiarity can become something like a mantra. A neat ending to our prayer, which cannot be faulted because the words are true.
We know that, as Jesus promised, if we pray in His name He will answer our prayer, but when things do not turn out as we would like we have a problem which we get round by saying that God will answer in His own way. This does not always disguise our disappointment, of course, but disappointment is inevitable when we offer our prayers more in hope than expectation.
So let us now see if we can add some substance to our prayers. To do that we need to think about why we pray. It is so instinctive and it is right that we should but what is the thinking behind our prayer?
The meaning of the words of Jesus about us asking in His name is far more significant than just being a formula spoken at the end of our prayers, even though the words are true. They have great depth because we are told to offer our prayers in His name.
In Biblical sense a person’s name is virtually the same as the person themselves. To put it another way, a person’s name is the very essence of that person. Jesus was not speaking in the manner of ‘just mention my name’, as we say these days. It was an invitation to invoke Himself as our Divine Mediator, mediation being the core function of His priesthood.
With this in mind our prayers take on a whole new dimension, for by our prayers in the name of Jesus we are joining in the divine mission of Jesus, epitomised by His words from the cross pleading for those who were killing Him; Father, forgive them.
To approach our Father in the name of Jesus is an invitation to join in His divine mission of reconciliation. This is not presumption on our part but acceptance of His invitation and promise. And it is costly.
The ultimate cost was paid by Jesus on the cross and we are invited to share in His self-giving when we offer our prayers in His name, remembering that the name is the person. Such self-giving cannot be sustained by our own efforts but it doesn’t have to be. We have the Holy Spirit to help us, and we need His help, for we are talking of a movement of the heart towards Jesus, not a clinical calculation or formula to ensure that our prayers are answered.
For this reason the grace that comes through the Holy Spirit is essential for it is He who unites us with Jesus in our prayer. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help us to fulfil our Christian lives, but there is another side to the coin in that the Holy Spirit is essential for the fulfilling of Christ’s mission, in which we have a part to play.
Our prayer is part of His sacrifice because we are one with Him in His purpose as our Great High Priest. This sharing with Him is active and organic in that it is alive, just as Jesus is alive. This is so for all of our prayer.
It can be difficult to think like this when we are faced with the all encompassing prayers that are used on grand public occasions, the sort of prayers that are so vague as to cover a multitude of situations and offend nobody. Broad intentions or requests that speak of matters beyond our comprehension.
Such prayers are no less real in their intent, but when we hear them we can bring them to life by having in mind what the words, ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ mean, and then bring the intentions into the presence of Jesus our Great High Priest, the One who lives to intercede for us.
In His sacrifice Jesus gave glory to God and when He said “It is finished” He knew that the first chapter was over and that in Him the Father would be glorified because His only Son had been faithful to the last. His death was but the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next.
In saying to His disciples, and to us, that whatever is asked in His name He will do, Jesus is giving us an invitation to join with Him in His sacrificial priesthood. Our prayer is for others, certainly, and it is also an opportunity to share and join in with the priesthood of Jesus.
That is why we pray. Not to manipulate God but to offer ourselves to Him on behalf of others, as Jesus the Son of God, offered Himself.
To pray in whatever form it takes, is an opportunity to share with Jesus and is welcomed by Him with open arms. It is a privilege for us that He has achieved by His self-giving and like all privilege it comes with responsibilities, albeit that it is also to be treasured and loved.
This goes far beyond a mantra tacked on at the end of a supplication. By using the words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ we exercise our vocation as Christians, offering our self-giving life with His; and in doing so we give glory to our Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Fr Ron Barret
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