How many times have you said the Lord’s Prayer? Hundreds? Thousands? Countless times. The Prayer is embedded in our hearts and minds; we can say it without even having to remember the words. It is a prayer that prays itself. That is both a comfort and a challenge – comforting because it is always there when we need it and challenging because its familiarity can cloud the radical approach to life we ask for when we pray this prayer.
Give us this day our daily bread, for example. It seems a simple request. In the Greek, though, the words take on an additional meaning that is easy to miss in routine and rote. The word translated “daily” has its origins in two Greek words that mean necessary for existence. The bread is given either for the current day or the very next day, depending on which scholar you read. Either way, the portion is for a single day, not something to be stored up and hoarded, but rather that which is necessary for life in the present.
So praying for daily bread is asking for what we need for our very existence, but it is also an implicit promise of trust. When we ask God to give us our daily bread, we are promising to trust that what we need will be given each day, that we do not need to hoard or try to store up God’s gifts. For anxious people, this is a hard promise to make. Remember the Israelites in the wilderness, trying to gather more manna than they needed in the moment? How hard it must have been for them to trust that God would provide for the future, and not try to manage it themselves.
And it is hard for us, too. All too often, we rush ahead to meet the future, hands full of worry, hearts so preoccupied by what does not yet exist that we miss the gift of the holy now. And in spite of ourselves, God continues to answer the prayer we pray even when we do not fully trust what we are asking. God continues to give us the bread we need for the present.
A story is told about the thousands of children who were orphaned and left to starve during the bombing raids of World War II.
The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee campus where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.” (Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn, p 1)
At this Table, we are given a piece of bread to hold. It reminds us that God has provided all we have needed for life in the past, and God will continue to provide for our future. We can let go of worry and anxiety and fear. Holding our bread, receiving and being part of the Body of Christ, we, too, can rest in the sure and certain promise of God’s eternal love. And that is all we need for today.
A sermon preached for
The Presbytery of Southern New England
May 5, 2012
(c) Martha C. Highsmith