A couple of weeks ago for the Queen’s ninetieth birthday, Prince Charles gave a tribute to his mother in her presence. He started by addressing her as ‘Your Majesty’, then said ‘Mummy’. In a sense, he had to say both. She is a mother – and therefore has a very special and unique relationship with her four children. But she is also ‘the Sovereign’. She inhabits a very special role, she’s been anointed for that role, and it’s a role that many others have held before her. There’s a sense in which she stops being some of herself in order to be the role, and there’s a degree of mystery in it.
There’s a bit of a parallel here with the name of God. At the moment we’re looking through the Lord’s Prayer in our services, and the other week we came to the second phrase, ‘Hallowed be your name’. On many occasions the Bible simply talks about God, or uses a more specific name, like the Lord. But on many other occasions, the Bible also talks about ‘the name of the Lord’.
We might think of someone’s name as less important than the person themselves. After all, a name is just something decided by parents when you’re born! But in Hebrew, it’s almost the opposite. The name of God is his nature or essence or character. It seems to delve more deeply into who God really is, rather like the depth and mystery of the role of ‘the Sovereign’.
Someone’s name is also their reputation. We sometimes say things like, ‘His name carries weight’ or ‘His name is mud’. People are often keen to get in with others who’ve got power or wealth or authority – some sort of good reputation. Of course, it suddenly changes if the person falls from grace! And this applies to God, too – his name is his reputation.
So what does it mean when we pray ‘hallowed be your name’? At first you might think it’s just a fancy way of praising God or his name – saying that he’s holy. But it’s more than that – it’s actually a request or petition. Another thing we might assume is that this has got something to do with bad language – taking God’s name in vain. But it’s not got very much, if anything, to do with that. It’s a far bigger thing that a bit of bad language. It means, ‘May your name be honoured. May it have a good reputation in the world.’
But how can that happen? Sometimes in the Bible God intervenes to honour his name himself. He does something to rescue his reputation. There’s a good example of this in Ezekiel 36 where the people of Israel have been taken into exile for not honouring God’s name, but then God brings them back, not primarily for their sake but for the sake of his holy name.
But at other times God’s name is honoured by humans. It’s not just something we do by coming to church and worshipping him, but something we should do in every aspect of our lives. When we live in the way that God wishes, his name is honoured and his reputation enhanced. In short, when people look at Christians, they see something of God.
So we can pray for God to intervene and do things, but we also have to be the answer to our own prayers. That applies to all of the Lord’s Prayer. We can’t pray for God’s kingdom to come or his will to be done or for the hungry to be fed unless we are also willing to do something about it ourselves.
Perhaps we can find new ways of putting this into practice this month in each of our lives. Christian Aid Week might be a good place to start.