Martin Luther understood the second commandment as linked with the command to pray. He understood that the negative, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” was also to be understood in the positive, “You shall call upon the name of the Lord.” “For to call upon the name of God is nothing else than to pray. Prayer is therefore as strictly and earnestly commanded as all other commandments...praying, as the Second Commandment teaches, is to call upon God in every need. This he requires of us, and has not left it to our choice” (LC.III.5-6, 8).
But God has provided the resource from which all prayer flows: the “Our Father.” Just as God has given the commandment to pray, so God has also provided, from Jesus’ lips, the prayer most pleasing to him. “Hence there is no nobler prayer to be found upon earth than the Lord's Prayer which we daily pray, because it has this excellent testimony, that God loves to hear it, which we ought not to surrender for all the riches of the world” (LC.III.23). Thus we pray so as to be drawn into God’s loving presence.
As far as our needs, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt 6:8). We are drawn into God’s presence with that first phrase, “Our Father who art in heaven.” These words are above all a confession of faith that God exists, “For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). But we confess our faith in God’s existence not in a glamorous, grandiose way after having worked our way through all our doubts.
We don’t confess that “God is” after we have resolved all enigmas regarding the existence of the universe, or how general relativity is reconciled with quantum theory, or the nature of dark matter, and the many other questions that assail scientific thought. We confess God’s existence mainly with the faith of a child, crying out “Our Father.” Or, as the apostle puts it, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). Abba, in Aramaic, was the infant’s first babbling words for the English equivalent of “Daddy.” Thus, faith in the existence of God is confessed with the words of a child toward “Our Father.”
But this is not a pantheistic confession that God is everything and everything is God. It is our Father who art in heaven. There is a marked distinction between the one confessing and the object of his confession. The expression could well be phrased, “Our heavenly Father of those of us who art upon planet earth.” We don’t look upon our earthly abode for help. We look beyond ourselves to the one whose abode is simply “in heaven.” Our prayer confesses that God’s abode is beyond us, yet ever so near for the prayer presupposes that we are being heard, even in our sighs and whispers.
In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we say:
“Hallowed be Thy name.”
The first petition is nothing but a confession of sin before the holiness of God.
Luther himself conceded in reference to the word hallowed, that “this is, indeed, somewhat obscure. (1) However, the clearest and most precise meaning is, “Sanctified be thy name.” (2) It is a declaration of God’s holiness vis a vis man’s sinfulness. The first petition positions the supplicant in relationship to God. The Father is holy, the supplicant is a sinner. Just as the Father has a holy name - The Holy One, The Eternal One - so the supplicant has a name - sinner. The first petition is nothing but a confession of sin before the holiness of God. The supplicant is not beseeching that God’s name be made holy, for it already is. The supplicant is pleading for God’s mercy in light of his own sinfulness. The plea is “I confess that your name is holy, because my own name condemns me as unholy. I am in need of your holiness due to my sinfulness.” In short, it is a plea for justification before God, based on one’s position before God, and God’s capacity to justify based on God’s own holiness.
God’s name is invoked because the name is the living representation of God’s actual presence; the Holy Name is one and the same with God’s Holy Being. In saying, “Sanctified be your name” we are joining our prayer to the publican’s prayer in the temple, “God, have mercy on me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And of him, the Lord said, “this man went down to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).
We may also look at the meaning of the inverse of the plea. Instead of the imperative, “Glorified be your name!” we are more prone to exclaim the other imperative, “Glorified be my name!” This indeed was the prayer of the pharisee in the temple, as he recounted his good works in his prayer to self. That prayer is the constant and futile cry of our sinful, idolatrous nature, “Glorified be my name above all others, including God’s!” Thus, the cry “Sanctified be your name” is also one of repentance. “I repent of seeking my own glory and holiness before men and before God. I rest my soul upon your holiness alone.”
When we pray for God’s name to be sanctified, we are praying for God’s glory alone to be praised throughout all creation for all his gracious gifts of grace.
“To sanctify” also means “to glorify.” It is a cry of praise, for the gifts of repentance and justification cannot be received without resultant praise. When we pray for God’s name to be sanctified, we are praying for God’s glory alone to be praised throughout all creation for all his gracious gifts of grace. His glory is the glory of the cross by which God reveals his name in Jesus as the one who “shall save his people from their sins.”
Thus the “Our Father” begins with a confession of sin, a plea for justification, a groan of repentance and an exultant cry of praise for the salvation that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.