Our daily bread. As a lover of bread, this is the line of the Lord’s Prayer dearest to my heart. And I do love bread. Not the sliced bits of compacted fluff that you get in supermarkets, but proper baker’s bread. Everything from a poppy seed roll to an extravagant focaccia. And one thing I’ve never lost from my formative years in Brussels is a love of proper, fresh-baked baguette. You don’t really get baguette in Britain – not that any French person would recognise anyway. Real baguette has to crackle when you squeeze it, not behave like an elastic band, as the British versions do.
And this is our way into this part of the prayer. It is the most immediately practical part of the Lord’s Prayer – our bread, today. It recognises that bread is both basic and essential, yet at the same time wonderfully satisfying and delightful. It reminds us that God longs to give us good things. “Which of you earthly fathers, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?”, Jesus asks, “Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are sinful, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”
To ask for our daily bread is to acknowledge God’s goodness and delight in giving us the things we need. It is both literal and symbolic. Literal in that we cannot do without our daily bread (even if it has to be gluten free) and symbolic in that it also refers to everything that we need for our sustenance and welfare. And it reminds us that, when God gives us what we need, he does a proper job. He doesn’t just feed us with insubstantial supermarket cotton wool bread. In God’s hands, our daily bread is both a basic staple and a gourmet dish. It is the most tangible token of Jesus’ promise of life in abundance and, of course, the substance he chose with which to feed us his own life.
And yet, to pray for your daily bread is also a prayer of humility. We are asking only for that which we need. Not our daily bread, along with butter, jam, the new PlayStation, a better car and a holiday in the Caribbean. It is a prayer that stops us short of greed and encourages us to be grateful for what we have.
It is also a prayer for justice. To pray that we might take no more than our fair share, is also to pray that there might be plenty left over for all.
And to ask for your daily bread is also a prayer for more faith. To ask only for the bread we need for today is to imply trust that God will give us bread again tomorrow. It raises up the memory of the Israelites in the desert, when God gave them manna to feed on. “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you,” said God, “and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day…gather as much of it as each of you needs…but let no one leave any of it over until morning. ” And when some did try to horde it for the next day, it turned foul and maggoty. God doesn’t want us to horde things until they are foul and maggoty. He wants us to trust him to provide our bread fresh for us each day.
But finally it is a prayer that asks God to feed us with his word, which is the bread of life. At its most fundamental, to pray for your daily bread is to pray for life itself – “keep me alive this day, Lord”. And so this prayer reminds us that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” To be truly alive, we need to be fed daily not only with physical sustenance, but with spiritual sustenance. Unless we are feeding daily on God’s word, part of us is dying. But whereas if we fail to eat our daily bread, our stomachs will quickly tell us we are dying, the failure to feed on God’s word can easily and dangerously go unnoticed. It is only when we return to the Lord and feed once more that we realise how hungry we had become. And realise also that, by feeding on less wholesome spiritual food, we have become sick, allowing selfishness, greed, sloth and bitterness into our hearts. And yet, we are always tempted to go without our daily dose of the bread of life. There is something in us that seems to recoil from healthy food, both spiritually and physically, perhaps because we have become too used to junk. So we need to pray this prayer daily in order to receive the grace that cultivates a hunger for God’s word and that opens our lives to digest the goodness God’s word offers. Prayer and Bible study depend upon each other and both can be as richly satisfying as a real fresh baguette – or whatever your bread of choice might be.
Give us this day our daily bread. Amen.