The Disciples' PrayerCopyright © 2008, Charles Henry Johnsen, III

The Covenant

Introduction to The Disciples' Prayer

The Lord's Prayer is the Founding Document of the Christian Church. Like the Ten Commands, it is a covenant between this specific God and His people. It is the same God: The LORD in the Commands and Abba (Father) in the prayer. In centuries past and to come, in other cultures, distant lands, and strange languages, among all of these peoples there remain these same short poetic covenants with this same LORD and Father. To this day His Voice and Person are alive, living with His people on this earth, during this era, and among these clinging dangers. Without question He loves us and without a doubt He will save us through this time to the next time, always near and always able to make good replace evil. For this reason each new covenant with His people extends His love further into the world but no new covenant ever replaces an old one. The Lord's Prayer IS the New Testament exactly because it incarnates the Original Testament.

With great respect for the traditional prayer, which gives a tear and a smile to this celebrant as he lifts his arms at the Eucharist and says, Now, remembering the prayer our Saviour taught us, we make bold to say…; let us boldly hold this bit of ancient literature up to the light. We will look for its bones and blood vessels, for its rips and stitches. Archaeologists dig for history in dirt and ruins, we will dig in documents.

Analogies taken too far embarrass, but there is a further comparison. Sometimes the ruins are under buildings still in use and great care must be taken not produce unintended ruins. And further still: we cannot dig at all when the building is the Dome of the Rock mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, under which a world heritage of three thousand years of history is buried. The Lord's Prayer is such a building in use and we certainly do not want to ruin it for anyone. But a superstitious attitude toward the Prayer could rob us of the great treasure of deeper understanding.

This book is about a prayer of few words and so familiar that we cannot hear it any longer when we pray. My goal is to help us hear more words than those spoken and never sleep through this prayer again. This understanding is new to me and you and the modern church but it is not new to Him who first taught us to pray. I offer you something old and deep and immediate. I may at first sound too modern for your taste, or I may sound old and foreign or perhaps just odd. I may be all of those things, but listen: He is Near, He is in these Words, He is Present with us and among us when we pray these Words. Odd? Indeed, even spooky and disturbing, as it often is when near Him and His power and His love.

Before we start, my usage of the divine names needs some explaining. First, I take the words Hallowed be thy Name. seriously and fearfully. Of course, by His invitation, we use homey names like Papa. But He is also God of Gods, Light of Light, Very God of Very God; the most powerful and frightening person in all of history, age after age. Our fellow believers, the Jews, hold His Name is such high regard that they dare not pronounce the Four Letter Name. Nor are we sure of how to pronounce it even if we do dare to speak aloud. Therefore, out of respect for them and fear of Him (they are both the same thing), I will use the Hebrew Ha Shem, or the English translation The Name, whenever that hallowed Name is needed. You will also see the word lord set like this: lord. The small caps and bold let you know that The Name stands behind the word lord as it does for the Greek KYPIOC in the ancient Greek Bible.

Second, I want to be clear about who animates the Prayer and indeed all of Scripture. As excellent as they may be, neither the Buddha, the Atman, nor the Supreme Being of the philosophers had lunch with Abraham. Ha Shem did. Therefore, I prefer not to use the word god as a name for the Protagonist of the Bible. The God of the Original and New Testaments is a very specific personality with a history and a short list of names, which I will use along with Ha Shem instead of the generic God. While we mean to honor our God with this name and the Hebrew and Greek equivalents are used in Scripture as if they were names, many others use the capitalized word flippantly to refer to a whole assortment of idols, forces, and powers. Of course, when Scripture uses the word God as a name I will respectfully quote it accurately. But when you see expressions like my God or the God of the Bible see the opposite of disrespect, see me trying to be very specific. Whenever I use the words my God or our God I mean Ha Shem, and, since I am a Christian, Geshua.

Third, He uses only four names for Himself: YHWH in Exodus 3 and 6, Geshua in Luke 1:31 and Matthew 1:21, Abba in the Disciples' Prayer, and often in the Gospels He calls Himself the Son of Man. Since ours is a religion of revelation and since naming things grants us access to them, His Names are of first importance. The rest are efforts to be indirect out of respect (The LORD), or an apologetic use of pagan divine names (God), or translations into other languages (El Shaddai), or theological analysis (Logos, Holy Spirit, Savior). The Trinity provides the classical Christian language for naming our God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, no one is sure how the Name of the Crucified One was pronounced in First Century Galilee. The Hebrew would have been something like Yo-shua (Joshua) and in the common language, Aramaic, Yeshu or Geshu. But perhaps that is too informal and we should follow the inscriptions (chiefly on ossuaries) and say Yeshua. The form Jesus comes to English via Latin and, prior to that, Greek. I chose Geshu, which I pronounce half way between a Y (year) and a G (get), because I believe that when Miriam (His mother) called Him to supper she pronounced this Name this way. But I could easily be wrong, I bow my head in church at any sound like Gee-Zuz, and I eagerly await further research.

Fifth, the One I am referring to is a god, not a goddess. I am not saying there are no goddesses, in America we are free to make up our own deities if we chose. But please do not make up insulting things about Ha Shem. Show a little sensitivity and tolerance for other points of view and refrain from calling the Lord of Hosts she. If you wish to call your Supreme Being she, go for it. But she has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.

I cannot convey to you how deeply this is felt. Not because I am opposed to women or feel they are lesser beings, but because His manliness is an historical fact. It is not about gender politics, it is about history, not about speculations but about established facts, not about eternal truths but about specific events in the real world. Even if you do not believe that Ha Shem exists, that it is all folk tales and lies, still everyone who can read must admit that the Hero of these tales is a He, not a She. It may have been nice if a feminine goddess had chosen the Hebrews and then lived with them on this earth. In that case, I would be glad to refer to Her as She. But that is, in fact and in reality, not what happened. The God who came to Abraham was not a male with human male body parts but was masculine in His attitude, personality, and emotional expression. Did He from time to time speak like a mother? Of course, what adult man cannot discipline his male self and rationally decide to behave, at least for a moment or in a situation, like a nurturing woman? But it is still a god in the role of a goddess, not a divine sex change. Nor is the biblical Ha Shem neuter, nor half man and half woman, nor so devoid of personhood that He has no gender. I find blurry, undefined gods repulsive. Give me a good old bully storm god every time over some vague concept of the Perfect or the Good.

But finally, sixth, the God of the Christians does, in fact, have male body parts and His Name is Geshua.

This is not intolerance. I sincerely hope that all, heretic or no, preach and teach and write about what they know and believe. I love a good argument, free speech is the only way for the truth to triumph, and nothing would please me more than to be able to change my mind about a hard doctrine. I mean it. Clear differences illuminate the real and the truthful and no human being can think alone without developing a pathology. But I insist you do me the same honor. Leave Ha Shem out of universalisms and speculative systems. Ha Shem, the God of the Bible, is a specific personality and refuses to be absorbed into schemes of totalitarian unity and false peace. Please take His claims to be alive and here with His people seriously. If that means you can no longer include His Name in the list of the names of the universalist god, so be it. We will take that deal.