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04.15.12 Hallowed Be Thy Name, John 20:1, 11-18

by on April 17, 2012

When Mary Magdalene looked for Jesus, she found exactly what many of us find today—he wasn’t there. But through a process she found something out about herself. So can we.

Summary Points

  • The progressive revelation of Christ’s and our identity
  • What it means (and doesn’t) that God is “Father”
  • Three general observations about prayer
  • Hallowing God’s name, unanswered prayers, and the double-movement

As John tells the story, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body alone. Upon arriving, she discovers that the entrance has been opened and his body is not there. A moment later, Jesus himself appears to her, addressing her generally as “Woman” and she mistakes him for the gardener. Next, Jesus speaks her name, and she recognizes him, exclaiming in response, “Rabbi!” Finally, he forbids her to touch him because he, “has not yet ascended to his Father and her Father, to his God and her God.”

What are we to make of this progression with its enigmatic final scene?

When Jesus refers to God as “Father,” he invites us to a new identity to be found in his resurrection. The first time God is revealed as Father is when Moses appears before Pharaoh demanding that Israel be allowed to worship, because Israel is God’s child (see Exodus 4:22-23). The kind of father God is, is one who redeems his children. When Jesus says he has yet to return to his father AND our father, he invites us to realize that a new Exodus has occurred in his resurrection; God has liberated us from slavery to sin and death.

As an aside, what Jesus does not reveal about God is that God is male. The reference to God as “Father” is to God’s character, not God’s sex. Calvin recognized this: “God could not attest his own boundless love toward us with any surer proof than the fact that we are called ‘children of God’ (1 John 3:1). But just as he surpasses all men in goodness and mercy, so is his love greater and more excellent than all our parents’ love.” (John Calvin, Institutes 3.20.36) The basis of comparison is not biological, but relational, and even the metaphor “parent” fails to adequately describe God’s relationship to us.

And this is why Jesus says he has yet to return to his God and our God. Lest we forget, in referring to God as father, that it is God with whom we’re dealing, Jesus reminds us. A Buddhist proverb says, “The finger is not the moon,” which means don’t mistake the pointer for the real thing. “Father,” and even Jesus himself, are references to God as God. They are helpful pointers, perhaps even essential for Christianity, but God remains God.

These are helpful clues into the opening invocation of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” God is the father who redeems his children. We are among those children redeemed. And yet God remains our father in heaven.

Before looking at the first petition, “Hallowed be thy name,” some thoughts on prayer in general. First, prayer is the first step of our participation in the divine life. When Jesus was baptized into our humanity, and when we are baptized into Christ, we participate in the divine life. Such participation is made possible by Christ. Our first step in this participation is by prayer. In prayer we are reminded of God’s identity, of our identity, and we seek God’s will. All of this is foundational to participating in the divine life.

Second, God is always listening. There is nothing we say, do, or desire that God does not observe, and this is especially the case in prayer. But God only answers prayers according to God’s will.

Third, so what assurance do we have that we are praying according to God’s will? One answer is the Lord’s Prayer. The New Testament writers used Psalm 91 as an aid to understanding who Christ is. It is featured prominently in the stories of Jesus’ temptation, for example. Psalm 91 concludes: “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Just as we are rescued and delivered in Christ, just as we are satisfied and shown salvation in Christ, so when we call on God in Christ, God will answer us. And so we pray the Lord’s Prayer using Christ’s words, as Christ’s siblings, and in Christ’s name. In other words, using the Lord’s Prayer increases our assurance that God will answer our prayers, for we will pray according to God’s will in Christ. In the words of the Study Catechism of the Presbyterian Church USA, “These words express everything that we may desire and expect from God.”

The first petition of the Lord’s Prayer is, “Hallowed be thy name.” The Study Catechism says, “This petition is placed first, because it comprehends the goal and purpose of the whole prayer.” In other words, the remaining five petitions of the Lord’s Prayer comment on or further explain what it means for God’s name to be hallowed. (Just as the subsequent fruit of the Spirit do in relation to the first fruit, love. Search this blog for sermons on each the fruit.)

When we pray that God’s name be hallowed, the first thing we are doing is subordinating our desires to God’s glory. No matter what else we pray after this, we desire it all to serve to glorify God. This may help us eventually understand, accept, or even embrace “unanswered” prayers. For if we commit ourselves from the beginning to God’s glory above our own desires, then when our desires do not accord with God’s will, we may take comfort that God nonetheless answered our first prayer that his name be hallowed.

There’s also a double movement in the petition that God’s name be hallowed. The first is that we ourselves would glorify and honor God in praise and thanksgiving. It’s a prayer that we would better recognize God’s goodness in creation, providence, and deliverance of us. In these instances we hallow God’s name for who God is.

The second movement is that we correct, resist and oppose all which does not glorify and honor God in these ways. For example, when we encounter a denial of God’s goodness in creation, we correct it. When we see idols in God’s rightful place, we work to restore God’s position. When we witness ingratitude we testify to God’s goodness. When we see apathy we proclaim God’s passion. In these ways we not only hallow God’s name ourselves, but labor to see the whole of creation hallow God’s name—just as we prayed in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Putting yourself in the garden with Mary, where is Jesus in your life right now? Absent? Present but unrecognized? Teaching you? Inviting you to be part of the liberated community? What can you do to see yourself more as a child of God?
  • On the continuum between God as Father and God as God, where do your prayers normally fall? Are you intimate with God, addressing him as father, or are you more worshipful with God, addressing him as God?
  • How has your relationship with your own father or father-figures or mother influenced your perception of God? In what ways does God’s relationship with you transcend these?
  • How will your prayers change now that you know that God answers prayers according to his will, and that his will is expressed in Jesus’ prayer?
  • Think back on “unanswered prayers.” Has your perspective changed on these since they occurred? Have you seen God’s name hallowed despite them?
  • In what ways can you participate in the “double movement” of hallowing God’s name? How can you glorify God more in your life? In the world around you, how can you testify to God’s goodness?
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