The Lord’s prayer is the international, multicultural, interdenominational prayer that links all Christians… The prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples:
In it we ask God to :’Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us‘.
But what is ‘trespassing’, spiritually speaking? Is it ‘sinning’? And is there a long list of things you must not do because they are ‘out of bounds’?
These days, there are all sorts of foods toward which people can be ‘intolerant’… It’s not at all unusual to hear someone say, “I’m gluten intolerant”, or ‘I’m lactose intolerant’… there are other foods which have a more violent reaction, allergies… People can be allergic to everything from peanuts , albumen, or shellfish to celery and tomato. And there are many foods to cater for people’s needs, you can even buy gluten-free communion wafers.
How odd it must be if one is gluten-intolerant, to chant with the congregation… ‘Give us this day our daily bread’!… Certainly the meaning of ‘bread’ there can mean every kind of nourishment: spiritual, mental and physical, that we need… but still it must feel odd.
But I think that combining these thoughts, of ‘trespassing’ and of food, are a very helpful way of beginning to think about how we live and relate to God and one another.
Take ‘TRESPASSING’ first. Suppose you and I are neighbours, and we have strips of land that in places run up against each other, and we walk on pathways along our land. Then if I stray off my pathway and step into yours, no longer running alongside yours, but encroaching on and limiting your path, blocking your way, or even becoming a stumbling block in your journey… and what is more, I cease to follow my path, and leave it untrodden and untended… in any of these cases I would be ‘trespassing’. You might do the same to me -and you would be trespassing against me.
Now think of life’s journey as a journey towards God; that is what all Christians do… So now we all travel on pathways that are not marked by fences or strips of land, but marked in space and time, emotion and thoughts… the paths of our lives journeys meander in and out of one another, running alongside and overlapping, criss-crossing, widening, narrowing sometimes becoming very tough -an uphill struggle; other times coasting through happy scenery…
We are never alone, as we are all travellers -whether we recognise it or not, and whether we know where we are going or not; none of us can tell just how we will get there!
Now think of the trespasses that might occur… One person seeking an easy journey through a rough patch may come and walk all over someone else as they are minding their own business. Two people who had been walking together may find themselves both stuck in a rut as their pathways begin to take slightly different courses. Someone may demand to be carried, someone else may refuse to turn and face where they are heading, another person may deliberately block their neighbour’s pathway because they don’t like where they are going…
But there is no simple list of generic signposts saying ‘do not walk on the grass’ or ‘this way is forbidden’… there is no highway code -there is only the journey -which each person makes in relationship with others. And in the end there is only one final destination. God.
Whether the way you’ve taken, means you’re delighted or ashamed to face getting there, is really the meaning of life.
And this brings us to food… One man’s meat is another man’s poison. What is a trespass to one person, can be a step in the right direction for another. What might be a minor stumble to someone starting out on the journey, could be a nasty fall for an experienced traveller.
I enjoy a cheese sandwich and a glass of wine… but for one friend of mine that could spell a night of sickness and stomach cramp, whilst for another friend it could be a life-threatening fall off the wagon.
‘Sin’ is much the same… When we make baptismal promises in the Anglican Church, and in many other denominations, we say that we ‘turn away from’ sin and ‘turn to’ Christ… and that means using Christ as our lodestar, our compass bearing ever after… not by trying to become a first century Jew, and looking or sounding like him… but by growing, through prayer and worship, into a genuine relationship with the living God… and he takes us on some pretty wild goose chases at times in order that we should travel the path he has in mind.
So whilst the God-breathed scriptures reveal time and again, what God may be saying to us… what they do not provide is an easy-to-read highway-code handbook for passing a test. Nor do they reveal a whole map… because whilst the Bible has been a closed canon in the Western church for 600 years, God is still writing in the Book of Life, and ‘bringing all things to their perfection’ (us included) as we walk -‘through the desolate valley’, or the ‘valley of death’, or through the ‘gates of Jerusalem’ and ’round about her’… or wherever He has in mind for us to go, and whoever he wants us to meet on our journey.
Which brings me to a final thought… the ‘path of life’ is not a free-for-all choice, though there are choices on it, and sometimes, when you come up against a great big rock, you have to recognise that you may have been off course for a long long time, and maybe you are supposed to turn around and walk back the other way… Other times, God will call you from the other side of that rock, and then Pilgrim, you know you’d better get out your hammer and chisel and start making a way through.