‘Give us Today our Daily Bread’
Christmas I Benefice Service, 29 December 2019.
Give us today Our Daily Bread.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means ‘House of Bread’. So when Jesus responded to his disciple’s request to teach them to pray, this connection would doubtless have been in his mind.
‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is a phrase that will have been on the lips of millions around the world during this Christmas period especially. For us who use it regularly, it trips off the tongue so easily but its implications are worth pondering. I raise this issue because one of the many good things which have happened this year is our warden’s decision to publish a weekly sheet of prayers and notices, which you will have in your hand. This has been well received almost universally, with some startling results. It does not come free or easily. People, especially the editor, put themselves out weekly so that we can take these sheets away and one person at least is aware of the danger to conservation which such a project poses.
God gives us today and every day our daily bread through the industrial processes which produce our bread and all manner of basic goods which we depend upon. We don’t give this activity a second thought until something goes wrong: a disastrous harvest, a strike, a public holiday. Occasionally – especially if this phrase is always on our lips – we might pause and think of those who don’t get their ‘daily bread’ and then we might wonder if God has failed.
God or us? It could be both. Are we praying for the wrong things? Does God disapprove of our appetite? IF so, why – and how might we modify our aims? As God – and this phrase in particular – is part of our world view, then we are sensitized to both the needs of others and the will of God. So saying this prayer – and occasionally pausing to think it through carefully – does have important results.
The Purpose of Prayer.
If you slip off the ferry at Calais and head south-west through the Normandy countryside on the A28 past Rouen you will find the ancient abbey of Bec, which produced in the 11th century an archbishop of Canterbury, St. Anselm. You can still see the ruined chapel where Anselm would have prayed and wrestled with God. He wrote a powerful treatise on the possibility of God and of Prayer. It begins like this:
“Come now little man,
Turn aside for a while from your daily employment….
…Free yourself for a while for God
And rest awhile in him.”
Proslogion. Ch. 1.
It’s printed out in full on the yellow card. Please take it away with you. Anselm suggests that even his monks need to give more time to their life of prayer. Could this be a New Year’s Resolution for all of us?
By inference, Anselm suggests that the purpose of prayer is union with God.
When you did your courting, your aim was to get to know this wonderful other person in your life. Prayer is just like that. We begin by doing lot of talking and when we get to know the other person well, then we can risk saying nothing, just enjoying their company. So it is with prayer but prayer is not just passive. It requires both Mary the mystic and Martha the activist. Some are attracted to one rather than the other but for most of us, we have to cope with both requirements if God is able to deliver our bread daily.
Our Prime Minister said that prayer for him was like trying to pick up Virgin radio as he motors through the Chilterns. It comes and goes. I’m sure he speaks for most of us in this respect but it is worth persevering and fiddling with the tuner, especially when things don’t appear to be working out.
Throughout the biblical record there are countless examples of prayer being answered and sometimes not answered. Jesus says to us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.” (Mt.7.7). Perhaps the most glaring example of prayer not answered is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying that the cup of suffering might pass him by. It didn’t, we know. But in that prayer, Jesus added, ‘nevertheless, not my will but thine be done’.
That is a courageous phrase to add to our prayers, ‘nevertheless, thy will be done’. Can we honesty say it by the beside of a suffering loved one? Would we not rather rail against God? Both are acceptable. God can cope but in the end, his will prevails and we have to adjust. What we are saying in both the anger and the accommodation is that we pray that our faith will stand the test.
My hope this coming year is that both Martha’s and Mary’s among us will become more passionate about prayer and the way we can assist God’s will in the answering of our prayers, supporting one another in crisis and rejoicing with one another in prayers answered. Amen.