“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9a NIV)
Humanity has imagined heaven in myriad ways over the years. In our culture, clouds and white robes with gold halos and harps have featured prominently. St. Peter meeting people at pearly gates has provided the context for many a joke.
In our picturing it, heaven is a realm in another place for another time.
In the prayer Jesus taught, heaven is first mentioned as the realm of God’s residence: “Our Father in heaven.”
Now, Jesus will have more to say and pray concerning heaven shortly. But for now, let’s simply claim that heaven is the realm where God’s rule is perfectly lived.
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1 NIV) But the earth is also the place where “[w]e know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22 NIV) because it is affected by the fall of humanity. The world is a place of both beauty and brokenness.
But heaven is only beauty and wholeness. That God the Father is “in heaven” highlights the fact that he sent the Son, God Incarnate, on mission to invade and reclaim this broken world and this fallen humanity. That we may participate with Christ in communication with his Father, and refer to him as “Our Father” too means that we are invited into Christ’s mission of invasion and reclamation.
To keep our vision clear, we must not give our attention only to earth, but keep our eyes on both heaven and earth. When we pray to “Our Father in heaven” we may not be emphasizing God’s distance from us so much as we are recalling the vision of a realm where God’s rule is perfectly lived. For this heaven is our “home country” now, and we have been made agents of a new kingdom, on mission from the kingdom of heaven to continue the invasion of earth with the holy love of God.
Prayer: God, we long for a realm where your rule of holy love is perfectly lived. Help us to pray to you in heaven, so that we may remember we are agents on mission from the heavenly kingdom to continue Jesus’ ministry of invading this world with divine grace and love. Amen.