The Lord's Prayer in a Pandemic | Sojourners

The Lord's Prayer in a Pandemic

The Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus told his disciples to regularly pray, is the most common prayer offered in our churches today. We recognize these words when we hear them in our houses of worship and pray them in our own households, with our families, and privately in our hearts. Many of our traditions include The Lord’s Prayer each Sunday, and it is likely being repeated more and more often during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as congregations meet virtually.

As President Trump has said he’d like to see “packed churches all over our country” on Easter Sunday to help him reopen the country and restart the economy, which he apparently thinks will help him get re-elected, we need the words of the Lord’s Prayer more than ever. The call to reopen comes despite the exact opposite instructions from health care professionals, along with governors and mayors across our nation, to maintain our social distance and closures until the dangers of this modern plague are past us. Trump’s reckless invitation to take our worship and prayers back into our churches before it is safe to do so is not only monstrous political irresponsibility, but religious sacrilege.

I predict that legions of pastors, priests, and lay church leaders will ultimately ignore Trump’s alarming advice, instead continuing to take their faith and worship virtual for the sake of healing the nation. Sojourners supports you in publicly saying “no” to Trump’s dangerous call — we've been collecting resources and guides to help you and your congregations gather safely. And we’ll be offering more opportunities to reach out to each other and speak out against reckless leadership in the coming days.

We will not commune to pray when it could infect untold numbers of our neighbors and fellow congregants. But we will continue to say the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.

'On earth as it is in heaven.'

The most profound reminders in the Lord's Prayer are true in times of peace and in times of crisis: We believe that the kingdom of God is a place with no more sin, death, disease, suffering, corruption, or evil; and we as God's servants are bringing the kingdom closer as we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy work be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Repeating the Lord’s Prayer week after week keeps that vison and work ever before us. Welcoming the kingdom into our midst is what we most hope for in a time like this.

Oh Lord, we confess our sadness and our fears. We feel stuck, trapped inside, overwhelmed, helpless, and even hopeless. Help us to believe that our present does not control our future, that we can look forward and not just backward. Enable us to change our situation now by bringing the future into it. Only the radical values of your new order — of love and justice — will bring your kingdom into our community right now, lived in this and all moments. Inspire and sustain us to bring your kingdom to earth even right now — in this moment of crisis.

Lord, in this moment we pray especially for those fighting on the front lines of the pandemic — our first responders, nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals — to save as many lives as they can. Shelter them from this virus and grant your healing mercies to those who will inevitably get sick despite their best efforts to protect themselves. Help our government and society mobilize to provide the protective and medical equipment they need to keep up as best they can with the onslaught of patients that is already here or on its way. And help those of us not in the health care sector to do the most important thing we can to protect them and lessen the severity of the strain they face — help us to stay home.

'Give us this day our daily bread.'

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads and shuts down more nations for necessary periods of social distancing, the economic impacts have indeed been both sudden and severe. I know many of you reading this have already lost hours or jobs. Many are unsure how they will make rent or put food on the table in the weeks and months ahead. But we follow Jesus who told us, "For I was hungry and you gave me food." We must always act to ensure those around us are given their daily bread — and we do that individually, communally, and systemically. It is the responsibility of those who have enough to help those who don't: Young people can take food to the elderly, we can support community kitchens, and all of us should demand our governments act to ensure daily bread for all those who need it.

Oh Lord, we are all ultimately afraid of hunger, and that fear grows during a time of modern plague when we see even more people going without their daily bread and suffering from food insecurity. Give us the strength not to hoard, but the courage to share what we have in order to provide daily bread for all. There is always enough for all if we find the creative personal, communal, and political ways to share it together. Lord, we know that we find you and each other at the table, so please make us hungry for larger tables. Even in times of social distance, show us how our daily bread can bring us together.

'And forgive us our debts;
as we forgive our debtors.'

Some versions of the Lord's Prayer translate this as "sins" or "trespasses," but I like the concept of "debts" because it encompasses more, and it sure seems most relevant right now. The prayer asks God to forgive our spiritual, moral, and material debts just as we should forgive those who hurt or wrong us. But we can also see this in very practical and material terms: How can we forgive those who owe us? This is a time when many do not have income to pay rent, utilities, or mortgages through absolutely no fault of their own. As public health depends on staying home, the last thing we need is for people to lose the security of their homes. Further, the millions laboring under mountains of student debt shouldn't be worrying about where the next loan payment will come from as they also worry about getting sick or becoming carriers of disease. The financial systems of our country create so much debt for so many of our people and our families. Of course, a pandemic that shuts down the economy only makes that worse — especially for low-income people.

Oh Lord, we owe you everything. You have forgiven our sins and trespasses, and for that, we are indebted to you. You have asked us to forgive others for their sins and trespasses, and perhaps their debts, too. Help us all to ask what a prayer for debtors would mean in this health and economic crisis. Where can we forgive the debts of others when we have the opportunity to do so? Oh God, how do we treat others they way you have treated us? Lord, you have never exercised foreclosure on our sins, trespasses, and debts. How can we follow your lead in our relationships with others, with our neighbors during a pandemic? Lord have mercy, Lord teach us to have mercy — right now.

'And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.'

A most disturbing thing about the president's invitation to reopen the economy by packing churches on Easter was his great temptation to place economic activity over life and health — especially the elderly who might be considered less economically valuable. While it might be tempting for those who crave spiritual community to go back to church, it’s clear this move was a decision to use those believers to help spur economic output and make political gain. The temptation to equate rising economic metrics with future political success is painfully clear.

Some young people have given into temptation of false safety because of their age and have continued to gather in large groups. 

Our temptations lead us into evil, and giving in to them could take the lives of many thousands or even millions of people.

And we see evil in the form of the rise in racism and xenophobia toward Asian Americans, which must be condemned and resisted.

Dear Lord, forgive us for the temptation to retreat from our neighbors in this health crisis, taking social distance into social withdrawal from the most vulnerable. Forgive those who feel exempt from this disease and therefore exempt from any responsibility for those who get sick. Forgive our president, and other people of wealth and power, who value economic activity over public health, and who are willing to sacrifice the worth of other human lives for their own political and economic gain.

'For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen.'

Lord, give us the faith and the courage to make this proclamation even in a time of a deadly virus. Give us the “patience in tribulation” that the Apostle Paul calls us to.

Because we know what your kingdom on earth brings, give us the hope of that kingdom in our hearts, lives, communities, and the nations. Let that future we believe in help sustain us in the present, even when things we can’t control seem to dominate our lives. Lord, help us to believe that the virus, the threats, the injustices, and the fears they create are NOT in control and never will be, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.”

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