Remember those Pillsbury commercials of a holiday meal, when everyone passes around the basket of warm dinner rolls, the first recipients breaking it open and melting a nice slab of butter on top, and the basket going around, until inevitably, there are two people grabbing for the last roll. A little tug of war, consideration of age, potential sharing, and just at the right moment when someone was about to be disappointed and not have their bread, grandma appears from the kitchen with a full basket, fresh out of the oven. Oh, what a sight.
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he said to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He actually uses a word in Aramaic that has confounded scholars and we don’t actually know how to translate it. “For the word epiousion occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in Luke’s version of the Prayer, and nowhere in Greek non-Christian writings save for one papyrus in a cook’s household account, in an entry under the fifteenth day, in connection with a semimonthly reckoning...Scholars suggest various derivations including: (a) necessary bread, (b) dependable bread, (c) daily bread, and (d) bread for the morrow.”1
Our first encounter with daily bread harkens to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness with Moses. The people were starving and not sure why they left captivity to die instead in the desert. Moses prays, and God rains down manna from heaven in Exodus, chapter 16. The dew of the morning was a flaky substance, and the Israelites were to collect it and eat, and all had enough, but they were warned not to collect too much or try to keep some for the next day, and those that tried – it grew worms and molded. The Israelites learned to depend on God to provide their needs, not their masters, not their own abilities, but God alone.
I think one of the challenges in this statement in our prayer “Give us this day our daily bread” is that we turn to God to fill our needs. We try to be so self-sufficient that we hesitate to even ask God for help. This is a statement of humility, a statement of orientation that we, God’s people, are asking God to provide. Karl Barth suggests that this part of our prayer counters our request that God’s Kingdom Come and Will be done, and that we participate in God’s cause. “Now we pray that God might participate in our cause, that God might respond to the basic needs shared by human beings. We disclose our dependence and we acknowledge that we cannot “live without God.” We cannot eat or drink, love or hate, justify ourselves or save ourselves, be sad or happy, hope or despair, succeed or fail without God. We are creatures. But that we are creatures means not only that we are not without God, but we are nothing without Him.”2 We depend on God. Daily. Not every few years when things get bad. Daily.
If the first challenge is in asking God for help, the second challenge would be in the humility of just asking for bread. We’ll take care of the bread, God, but if you could give us each day a little extra dessert, or maybe a steak, perhaps you could help me to have some not just for today, but if you could maybe double the grocery budget for next month, then I can eat out more and not have to worry about cooking. Bread is the most basic staple. When the Hebrew people were escaping Egypt, they didn’t have time for the bread to rise, and so unleavened bread has an important part in reminding God’s people of liberation. Bread would have been made every day. Bread would have been shared.
When we celebrate World Communion Sunday, I have always used a variety of breads from around the world, because while every place has bread, it looks and tastes different. The rice cakes of Asia, the Naan of India, the Rye bread of Germany, the injera from Ethiopia, the corn tortillas of Mexico...all God’s children have bread, and it’s different, but it’s equally a staple everywhere. For some of us, having the bread we need is a real concern. For others of us, we have more than enough. There is enough food produced for everyone to have enough. It is not an issue of production, it’s an issue of distribution and consumption. One of my former seminary students, Cora Glass, said “For some of us our prayer might not be Give us Today our daily bread, but rather give us the grace to know when enough is enough.”
I am guilty of currently having seven loaves of bread in my house. This comes after not having bread to make sandwiches for two days. So I went to the store and bought three loaves, Adrian picked up two on his way home, and my aunts came by because Carrie, my 6 year old had texted them saying we were out of bread, and they brought 2 loaves before we took them to the airport. My children needed bread, and now they have
more than enough for today. We will put some in the freezer, and they will eat every crumb. Yet, what about the other children who do not have bread. In the city of Chicago, 1 in 6 people are dependent on the Chicago Food depository.
Here in Park Ridge, we partner with the other churches in town for a Sunday night supper, and Whole Foods gives out mountains of bread to our community – those who do not have bread. And some of us have more than enough. As we pray this prayer, is God also inviting us to share? From whom much is given, much will be required...
When we pray “give us our daily bread”, we are confronted by the communal language. Jesus was concerned with those in their midst who did not have enough to eat, and when the disciples wanted to send folks away, Jesus said you feed them. The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels. Jesus took seriously feeding those who were hungry. When the wine ran out at the wedding in Cana, he fixed that too, so that all might have enough. Yet, currently around 821 million people do not have enough food to eat. Cyclone Idai left a wake of 700 people dead, with storms before and flooding after continuing to take the lives of our brothers and sisters in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. That number will certainly increase as communities continue to realize the ongoing impact to food sources.3 Floodwaters have washed away roads, places are without electricity and running water. At least 1.6 million people are impacted by this catastrophic event, and yet, we have the audacity to pray – give us this day our daily bread, not just me, but our siblings in Mozambique, our sisters in Malawi, our brothers in Zimbabwe.
Today’s Gospel lesson in John comes after the feeding of the Five Thousand. The crowd followed him across the lake. They had found a source of nourishment, and they followed it, but Jesus wanted to make sure they were aware of what all was going on. They might have thought they were being led by their bellies or by practicality. They got a free meal the day before, let’s get in line again. However, sometimes our “gut” instinct is more than just physical hunger. They needed to be with Jesus, but not just for the meal. He satisfied the hunger of their hearts. The crowds were fed spiritually, and they might not have even realized how much they had been spiritually starved. They had questions – how do we know you’re really from God? How can we be certain? How do we know we can trust you? Can you bring down manna from heaven?
Jesus responded. I am the bread of life. Later there were those who were not satisfied with this answer – after all, Jesus didn’t come from heaven. Jesus came from that poor girl Mary from Nazareth and Joseph from Bethlehem. God’s son? Nah...he was Joseph’s boy. And Jesus reiterates, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”4
We don’t just need food to survive. We are in need of the bread of life. We need worship. We need scripture. We need prayer and a connection with the divine. It’s been a privilege to learn with some of you in Bible Study and hear the ways that you have your spiritual hunger filled. This part of Jesus’ prayer begs the question of whether we are truly seeking to be filled – with that which is good. Oh sure, we fill our time, fill our calendars, fill our heads with all sorts of things...but have we feasted on the bread of life, that fills us as only God can. When we show up to church – some of us come for friendship, some for the coffee hour, some for the riveting sermons...but maybe today, we hear Jesus saying – you know why you’re here – not for the gluten-free bread, but to be filled with bread that cannot be bought.
Today, we celebrate the baptisms of two sweet children, and we are reminded of the waters of grace that claim us as God’s beloved. We promise to teach our children where they can eat and be filled. We promise to help them and all God’s children be fed – with actual bread, sharing what we have so that all may have enough, and also with the bread of Jesus who fills our spiritual hunger.
Maybe the Kingdom of God that we pray for is kind of like that Pillsbury commercial, where we are all gathered around a banquet table, black and white, rich and poor, American and African, Christian and Muslim, gay and straight, short and tall, young and old, and we pass the food around, God like a loving grandmother, comes out of the kitchen with a huge smile – and a basket filled with love, proclaiming, “There’s more than enough to go around!”
Give us this day our daily bread. May it be so. Amen.
1 Buttrick, George A. So we Believe So We Pray: The great beliefs of the Christian faith and the Lord’s Prayer. New York: Abingdon Press, 1950, p.181.
2 LeFevre, Perry. Understandings of Prayer. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981, p. 41.
4 John 6:47-51