During yesterday’s Midday Prayer service, the eleven us of gathered together on Zoom spent some time considering the text of the Lord’s Prayer. We were particularly interested in the phrase “save us from the time of trial.” I pointed out that I’d always disliked the contemporary version of the prayer because of its rendering of this clause, which in the traditional prayer reads “lead us not into temptation.” Times of trial have always been good for me, no matter how painful they may be. They’ve helped me grow and deepen as a person. I don’t really want to be saved from times of personal trial.
Years ago I said this to my wife, and she pointed out that I might be misunderstanding the phrase. What if “time of trial” didn’t refer to moments of personal hardship, but to THE time of trial, the apocalypse, that period of misery and testing that all of creation might go through before the eschaton. We are assured that at the very end, Christ will come again in glory and all will be made well — creation will be restored to the beauty that God intended for it, our relationships will be healed and our brokenness forgiven, and God will wipe away every tear from our eye. Yet there’s also a tradition of Christian apocalyptic that says that before this eschaton can happen the world will go through a period of great suffering. In a way, these ideas take the central Christian metaphors of death and resurrection and apply them to the cosmos. Yes, Easter morning will come, but first everything that exists must walk the way of the cross, and walk it at the same time. And when we consider what that might look like — everyone sick at one and the same time, everyone jobless as one and the same time, everyone grieving at one and the same time — it makes sense that we would ask to be saved from it.
This discussion led me into a clearer understanding of how deeply everything is connected. Periods of personal suffering are connected to the period of universal suffering. All our little calamities, which often make us feel isolated and alone, are huge calamities in microcosm. We’re not alone when we suffer, because everything suffers. What happens in the soul happens in the world, and vice versa. We can never really be isolated from it.
Yet I still want to be saved from the time of trial. I want our tragedies to be spaced out. I want this because it will mean that fewer people suffer all at once. It will mean that there are some of us whose suffering is small enough that we have the strength and energy to carry the suffering of other people, both spiritually and practically. The true terror of the time of trial is that there may be no one with any capacity to care for others, to pray for others, to administer last rites, to sustain the holy flame of our worship of God. If we take the Lord’s Prayer seriously, then we must recognize that it holds a call to action within it. God, save us from the time of trial, save us from pretending that everything is okay, or that we can skimp on taking necessary precautions, save us from the egotism that cannot admit the suffering of others, or that we might be the cause of it. Save us from the time of trial.