Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Give us this day our daily bread

By Peter Lockhart

Week by week, around the world, congregations follow Jesus instruction to pray the Lord’s Prayer. I believe that there are times that we say and do things in our faith and over the years of doing and saying them one of two things can happen. Firstly, through repetition and deeper understanding the words become our own and so we as we say them they deepen our faith and commitment. Or, alternately, familiarity breeds contempt. Repetition of the words creates an immunity or boredom sometimes exacerbated by ignorance and often resulting in rejection.

In considering the words of the Lord’s Prayer which are not simply Jesus instruction but are also filled with rich meaning I want this morning to simply focus on one line of the prayer.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Jill Matsuyama Creative Commons

In reflecting on these words I want to bring three things to your attention.

Firstly, the literal sense of the words as they have been translated into English.

Secondly, a sense of meaning that is grounded in Jesus statements in John’s gospel “I am the bread of life” and “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

And thirdly, a context of meaning found in the Eucharistic practices of the church.

Give us this day our daily bread are words which when understood simply at face value appeal to God for the basis sustenance of life: food. My earliest recollections of praying this line of the prayer are to do exactly with that. I understood that we prayed to God to provide for us our basic human needs.

This in itself is an act of faith. In praying give us this day our daily bread we look to God as the one who ultimately can provide and does provide all things. This line of the prayer reminds us that all things come from God and regardless of our human efforts and systems of society not one thing exists or is available for us but by God’s will. As words standing alone in their basic meaning they are words which should humble as we share in praying words that Jesus prayed and as we realise that the world and all that is in it belongs to God. We look to God for what we need.

I have little doubt that this basic meaning is meant to be a part of our understanding of Jesus words but when we look deeper than the English translation and consider the wider context of not only the prayer but the whole of Jesus life there is more to be said.

When tempted by the devil to turn stones to bread Jesus declares “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4, see also Luke 4:4) Jesus understanding was that whilst bread may be important for our physical sustenance we have greater need than this.

On this point it is interesting to note that in the Egyptian Coptic Church’s translation of this passage and of the Lord’s Prayer the phrase is translated something more like, “Give us this day the bread of eternal life.”

What might we think of as the bread of eternal life? The answer is given to us by Jesus in John’s gospel, chapter 6.

“The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

And when asked, what is this bread? Jesus answer is.

“I am the bread of life”

“I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

Combine these statements with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ might also be said ‘Give us this day and every day Jesus’. The statement in the prayer operates on more than one level. In appealing for our daily bread we appeal to God to give us Jesus, every day.

This raises the importance of saying these words immensely and as we say them week by week in church with this understanding they ground us in the reality of our faith. Not simply that God provides for our physical need in bread but that God has given the bread of heaven Jesus Christ and this is what we need more than all else. In the gathering of the worshipping community we receive this bread as we hear the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed as we eat the bread together in communion. We receive the bread in word and sacrament.

This leads me into my final point. This prayer has Eucharistic significance. The Lord’s Prayer is placed within the setting of the communion service I believe because it points us to God’s coming kingdom and also to the bread with which we are fed upon the way: Jesus Christ himself.

One of the great sadness that I have for the Protestant Church in general is the loss of understanding concerning Jesus presence feeding us in the celebration of the Eucharist. We have been guilty of reducing our understanding of what we are doing as mere remembrance of what Jesus did and often this is further exacerbated by the individualism of our faith whereby we see taking the elements as something merely occurring between me and God.

Yet in celebrating together, being fed with the bread of eternity, we are not disparate people coming as lonely individuals before our God. By no means! We are made to be what we are companions in Christ. The word companion comes from two words ‘with’ ‘bread’ and literally companions are those who break bread together. As we are fed at this table we are bound not by respect or love of one another nor even are we stifled by our incapacity to respect and love one another. At this table we feed on the bread of eternal life and in breaking this bread with us the Lord makes us one. Companions in Christ!

As a final aside on this particular point the prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread.” For me there is an argument here for more regular celebrations of the Eucharist. The great reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin live in a time when the Lord’s Supper was celebrated 4 times per year it was they from whom we draw our heritage who argued first for weekly communion. A few hundred years later, John Wesley in his revival is said to have celebrated communion up to 3 and 4 times a week. The appeal for daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer I believe points us to celebrating the Lord’s Supper each time we worship together and in fact the assumption in the Leaders Book Uniting in Worship is that communion is celebrated each week. There is something to dwell on fir us all here.

Give us this day our daily bread.
Provide our physical needs for us day by day.
Give us your Son day by day.
Feed us with the bread and wine offered at your table day by day.

As we think again on these words this day as we feed on him by Word and sacrament I pray that we all this day may come to a deeper understanding that we are truly companions in Christ and this will inform your congregation here in the days and the weeks and the years ahead until Christ comes again in all his glory. Amen.

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