Give Us This Day
“Give us this day our daily bread . . . .”
This seems like an odd phrase to focus on right now. We may be dealing with a pandemic, and with dramatic steps taken to lessen its impact as much as possible – but we are not in a famine. It may not be as easy to find fresh meat and some notable other items, and going to the grocery store is now a minor adventure – but many of us are still eating quite well, thank you very much.
But that’s not true for everyone, and it wasn’t true for many even before the current public health crisis. Far too many people right here in Arkansas struggle to know where their meals will come from. (Remember, we’re asking for our daily bread, not just “mine.”) Children and senior adults are the largest sub-groups to be at risk of food insecurity. Those who were already at risk are now even more so, as our systems for taking care of ourselves and others are under strain. I have been inspired by the way that Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, civic leaders, and school districts are working together to provide “grab-n-go” lunches to school-age kids—including during weekends—during this time of shutdown.
At the same time, I think we can all enter deeply, and personally, into the request for “daily bread.” Martin Luther wrote that when we ask for daily bread, we are also asking for “everything necessary for the preservation of this life, like food, a healthy body, good weather, house, home, [family], good government, and peace – and that [God] may preserve us from all sorts of calamities, sickness, pestilence, hard times, war, revolution, and the like.”
That just about covers it – doesn’t it? That quotation from Luther comes from Matthew Paul Bruner’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Bruner calls the request for daily bread, the “politico-economic” petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Bread costs money, money requires work, work requires good government, good business, and good labor.”
Just pause for a moment and consider all the various people that play some role in making it possible for you to bring a loaf of sandwich bread home from the supermarket and to have some confidence in all of those processes—from food production, safety, transportation, etc. We can see and feel these deeper, broader dimensions of the daily bread we need in a time when we are shutting down so many of our daily interactions, in order to preserve as much as we can from a disease that spreads through those very relationships.
The past two weeks have given us insight into the web of institutions and relationships that we rely on daily. Many people who follow every twist and turn of national politics are likely to know next to nothing about their elected and appointed officials at the state and local levels—but those folks, and a host of bureaucratic agencies, are making decisions and providing information that impact us and our neighbors profoundly on a daily basis, from disseminating sanitation guidelines to procuring protective gear for health workers, to setting and enforcing curfews, etc.
On Monday, Chris made a compelling case for us to get better or re-acquainted with trees during this time of social distancing. Since then, I’ve been signing up folks for visits to Lake Nixon, where there is plenty of opportunity to do just that (and there are still plenty of times available in the coming days to spend time where the photo above was taken).
I would also like to invite you to spend some time with this essay (“A Cathedral not Made by Hands”) written by one of my former teachers, in which he reflects on the insights we can gain through close study of an old growth forest. If nothing else, take a look at the article for the incredible photographs. His basic message is, “creation is profoundly interrelated [and] interrelatedness is not simply a truth about ecology that we observe, but a truth about ourselves in which we participate.”
“Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s such a basic, earthy request for life’s necessities. And because we are so interconnected with each other, and with the rest of creation, it’s also a prayer for the preservation and strengthening of the fabric of human society and the natural ecosystems from which it grows — in other words, “the Economy” (in the biggest, deepest sense of the word).
God, we need food each day, and our neighbors need food as well. But we also need everything that makes that food possible for us. We entrust the care, preservation, and provision of all this into Your hands, and we ask it in Jesus’ name through your Spirit. Amen.