By Renjy Abraham – Dean of Spiritual Life and Cultural Integration
For followers of Jesus, Holy Week is designed to slow us down as we ponder and rehearse the journey of Jesus who marches to the cross and rises from the dead. In that journey, we are to grieve the brokenness of the world and anchor ourselves in the hope of new creation and new life.
We must not forget to grieve this week, especially because of our current circumstances. In these unprecedented times, surrounded by a global pandemic, our regular rhythms have been disrupted, leaving many of us experiencing loss and sadness. And that is ok. It is ok to feel to feel what you are feeling, when you are feeling it. The Scriptures reveal to us that grief is a gift from God. Grief is given to us to process the losses and change.
In this Holy Week, I have found praying through the Lord’s prayer as a way to work through my grief. I am also discovering an empowerment to push back on anxiety, not ignoring the pain, but to walk faithfully and confidently to love my neighbor. Jewish custom was to pray three times a day – evening, morning, and afternoon. It is in this context that Jesus is teaching about prayer.
Matthew 6:9-13 – “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’
Jesus teaches us to approach this God as Father. When we talk about God, it is easy to imagine a distant being, far off from us. However, a Father is one who is close to you. A good parent knows you. They are involved in your life, understand your concerns and want you to thrive. Teaching us to approach God as Father is emphasizing relationship and presence. After being quarantined for 15 days, this past week I wanted to check on my parents to see how they were doing. When I got there, they handed me a bunch of Indian food that they had prepared. They gave me extra toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and hand soap. I showed up to help them, yet they are so focused on caring for me. Jesus wants us to see God as a good Father who cares for us. We begin this prayer focused on our Father and we remember that we are not alone. No matter what is going on around us, there is one who sees and cares. Our eyes, our hearts, our minds, first begin with a Father who is with us, and then the focus shifts to us.
Jumping down to the middle of the prayer we are to pray about our daily bread. Not monthly, not weekly, but daily. Even in quarantine, many of us have more than our daily bread. Notice the plural usage. We don’t pray “Give me, my…”. It is “Give us, our…”. Imbedded into this pray is community and love for our neighbor. This prayer pushes our thoughts to those who do not have daily bread. For those of us who have abundance, how is God going to fulfill this prayer? It is through us. In praying this prayer, we become a part of the answer to the prayer. Through praying this, God is inviting us to give to our neighbors who don’t have enough. This daily bread is more than just food. It encompasses the sustenance you need for that day. The emotional capacity, the mental space, the compassion are all examples of “food” required for the day. This prayer moves us to see our neighbor and think, “If I have enough grace and enough patience, how then can I extend that to my neighbor who might lacking those things today?”
I find it very fitting that right after this prayer, only a couple of paragraphs later, Matthew records Jesus’ teaching in anxiousness. Jesus says “Do not be anxious…” (Mt 6:25). The anxiousness Jesus is referring to os not the common everyday concern of care that you have for someone or something. He is speaking to an anxiousness that is far more damaging and debilitating. The imagery associated with this word was used in the coliseum, when Roman officials would tie the arms and legs of a person to four different horses, aimed in different directions. What happens when the horses start moving? This is what anxiety does. It tears us apart. This is the kind of anxiety that is rooted in fear and despair. The kind of worry that drives you to hoard and take all the toilet paper, all the food on the shelf, way more than you need. The kind of fear that thinks that I need to take care of myself because no one is there for me. The kind of despair that cripples you from even thinking about someone else. And if you do, they are a threat. If you live like that, you will be torn apart.
By praying this prayer, we are reminded we do not have to live like this. Remember, the Jewish context was to pray this three times a day. God knows that our hearts tend to wander. Even in the middle of the day, we need to remember we are not alone in our grief, sorrow, and sadness. Praying this through the day begins a practice of inviting God, the Father, into your daily situation remembering he is with us and is moving us to others.
The Scriptures tell us that He is at work, in the confusion and uncertainty, to bring wonder and something new. We are invited to discern what Jesus is doing and partner with him to become a part of the answer to this prayer with creativity and innovation. This doesn’t cancel out our pain. Recognize your grief and allow yourself to not hold on to what was, but to let go so you can receive what is new. The gift of grief is the process of letting go. If we do not properly grieve, we hold on and grasp at what was. We can’t grab ahold of the new, if we are so busying holding tight to the past.
In this season we have the opportunity to be the new builders to partner with God in His continuing creative work. Let’s be inventers of what it looks like to serve our neighbor in quarantine. The random text, to let people know that you are thinking of them. The phone that invites someone to pray. The trip to the grocery store for someone who can’t go out. Toilet paper left on the doorstep of someone in need. You get to be the innovators of how to love others in a time of social distancing.
Holy week reminds us that God is doing something new in a time of distress and fear. This week is designed to remind us and re-center on the mystery that God came in Jesus to rescue the world by being executed on a cross and through the resurrection he has victory to bring about a new creation. The invitation of this prayer, and ultimately the gospel, is to partner with him daily in this creative work, trusting that even in the mess He is working.
Tune in to watch our first virtual chapel service with Renjy Abraham, Dean of Spiritual Life and Cultural Integration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpsfac5xRI0