‘Our Heavenly Father’ – Praying to the Abba of Advent

In The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright says the word ‘Father’ in the prayer Jesus taught his followers (the Lord's Prayer) calls our attention to the revolutionary message and mission of Jesus that is the real Exodus message -- the message of the defeat of tyrants, oppressors and evil. It is the Father’s revolution that comes through the suffering and death of none other than the Messiah who is the Father’s Son. Wright says our Lord taught us this prayer because the Advent message is that the Father’s revolution comes through the Messiah and his followers “sharing and hearing the pain of the world, that the world may be healed” (p 19).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of father and son to explain what he was himself doing. In that culture, the son is apprenticed to the father. He learns his trade by watching what the father is doing. When he runs into a problem, he checks back to see how his father tackles it. That’s what Jesus is doing in Gethsemane, when everything suddenly goes dark on him. Father, is this the way? Is this really the right path? Do I really have to drink this cup? Wright comments:
The letter to the Hebrews says, with considerable daring, that the Son "learned obedience by what he suffered" (Heb. 5:7-9; compare 2:10-18). What we see in Gethsemane is the apprentice son, checking back one more time to see how the Father is doing it.... The daring thing about that passage in Hebrews is this: Jesus too, like us, went on learning what it actually meant to call God ‘Father.’ And the learning process was only complete when he said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (pp 18-19)
Wright calls our attention to the end of John’s Gospel in which Jesus says to his followers: "As the Father sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21), and then describes the tension and confusion of our living between the first Advent (the Incarnation) and the second Advent (Jesus' return in glory):
That apparent confusion, that overlap of the first and second Advents, is actually what Christianity is all about; celebrating the decisive victory of God, in Jesus Christ, over Pharaoh and the Red Sea, over sin and death -- looking for, and working for, and longing for, and praying for, the full implementation of that decisive victory. Every Eucharist catches exactly this tension. "As often as you break the break and drink the cup, you proclaim, you announce the death of the Lord -- until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). We come for our daily and heavenly bread; we come for our daily and final forgiveness; we come for our daily and ultimate deliverance; we come to celebrate God’s kingdom now, and to pray for it soon. That is what we mean when we call God ‘Father’ (pp 20-21).
Thus when we call God ‘Father’ we are children who are learning (like apprentices) how to discover a pattern of spirituality and a way of “penetrating into the mystery, of daring to enter the cloud of unknowing” in stepping out into a terrifying world of pain and darkness (including, Wright reminds us, the darkness inside our own selves), as sons and daughters called to “be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God” (p 21).
In the midst of such pain and suffering we pray not for the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement or to get in touch with our own feelings, but rather we discover the desire and necessity of praying, "Father, Our Father; Our Father in heaven …. may your name he honored."  That is, "may you be worshiped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed."  And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos -- then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.... It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world, and kneeling in the presence of the creator of the world, of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and of calling God ‘Father’. Our task is to grow up into the ‘Our Father’, to dare to impersonate our older brother, seeking daily bread and daily forgiveness as we do so: to wear his clothes, to walk in his shoes, and to feast at his table, to weep with him in the garden, to share his suffering, and to know his victory. (pp 22-23).
Blessings to you all during this Advent season!


Pastor Jonathan said…
Great post, Mike. I really appreciate the focus on Christianity being about the tension between the first and second Advent and the way the Eucharist holds that in tension. To me that is a reason to make the Eucharist the center of Christian worship every Sunday - it helps us experience and live in that tension, keeping the first Advent and the second constantly present to us.
Mike Hale said…
Appreciate your comment, Pastor Jonathan. Hopefully in future posts we can expand on ways the Lord’s Table nourishes the church. Considerable space is given to the subject of the sacraments in the Addendum of Incarnation: the Person and Life of Christ, by T.F. Torrance. Here’s a short sample to whet our appetite.

“God has already put everything under the feet of Christ, but Christ must reign nevertheless until all his enemies are put under his feet. We do not see that as yet, but we do see Jesus already crowned with glory and honour and wait for the fulfillment of his reign. That is the faith and hope of the church.”

“Between the times, faith and hope are confirmed and nourished by the two sacraments of the Word made flesh, baptism and holy communion, which are essentially signs belonging to the fullness of time… In baptism that is communicated in a once and for all sense….the wholeness of Christ and the completeness of our salvation… In baptism we have to do with the new creation, the perfect body of Christ into which we become incorporated. In holy communion, on the other hand, we have to do with the continuance of that in conditions of time, with the church as the bodying forth in this fallen world of communion with Christ.”

What kinds of comments are made in introducing the Eucharist each week in your congregations?
Mike Hale said…
And back to the Lord's Prayer and Advent.... Attended a special Christmas event recently, and the song version of the Lord's Prayer was sung in the midst of all the old and new and Christmas songs. Quite fitting!
Pastor Jonathan said…
What a great quote from Torrance! I would love to hear the Lord's Prayer sung during a Christmas service, that sounds like a really good idea.
Regarding the Eucharist, I try to connect that week's sermon to the bread and wine, and since my sermons are seasonal within the Christian year and follow the Lectionary it means that the Eucharist takes on meaning appropriate to the season. So, during Christmas, for example, I will talk about how the Son became flesh (bread) and blood (wine) for us. During Easter we would focus on how Christ is revealed in the breaking of the bread. I think it is important that we see the fullness of Christ's advent in the Eucharistic meal - not only his death, but his birth, life, resurrection, ascension, and second coming. I think one reason that many people don't like the idea of communion every Sunday is that they are accustomed to only hearing about Jesus' death in connection with the bread and wine and therefore it feels like Good Friday every Sunday. By connecting the Eucharist to the seasons of the year, and the fullness of Christ's life, we can make sure that the bread and wine are pointing us to who Christ is in the fullness of his life.
Beyond that I usually use a similar version of the words of institution each Sunday, "Jesus took break, blessed it, and broke it", etc., and just before I offer the prayer of blessing I say "This table proclaims the mystery of our faith" and then the congregation responds in unison "We died with Christ, we rose with Christ, when he comes we will share in his glory." Then during the prayer of blessing I make a connection to the season we are in - so, for example, on the 1st and 2nd Sundays of Advent I talked about Jesus' second coming so during the prayer I prayed that the Eucharist would a foretaste for us of the wedding supper of the lamb and the banquet of the Kingdom that we look forward to.
Jerome Ellard said…
Good stuff, Mike and Pastor Jonathan! I've been asked to coordinate a Maundy Thursday service at one of our congregations, and my plan is to focus on how Jesus has pledged his entire life for us - he is our everything, and the elements of communion remind us of that. A good portion of the this participatory service revolves around four songs by John Michael Talbot, in this order: "I Am The Bread of Life," "I Am The Vine," "I Am the Good Shepherd," and "I Am the Resurrection." All of them beautiful, and full of assurance of who Christ is for us. We have the joy of living our lives in him in these (among other!) special ways.
Pastor Jonathan said…
That sounds like it will be a beautiful service, Jerome, I pray that it will be a great blessing in the lives of all who participate. It's also exciting to hear about churches embracing Holy Week as part of their worship!