In this Lenten season, I am focusing on the object of bread as an image that helps us focus on divine realities. (The idea is from a book called “Lent: In Plain Sight: A Devotional Through Ten Objects,” by Jill Duffield.) Bread comes up a lot in the Bible. From the Old Testament where God provides bread in the wilderness to Jesus referring to himself as the bread of life, bread is a poignant image. One very interesting place that bread shows up is in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-14.
I grew up saying “The Lord’s Prayer” every single week in church. This is unusual for a Church of Christ girl like me. Most Churches of Christ don’t have a lot of liturgy which is why it was so special for our church to recite it each week aloud together. Like many songs and prayers that we recite growing up, The Lord’s Prayer is a part of my DNA. It is not just something I have memorized, it is something that lives within me. Do you have songs or prayers or creeds like this?
In Matthew 5-7, Jesus was teaching in his longest recorded sermon in the bible as he sat on a mountain in front of lots of people. Rabbis would sit while they taught in this day and age. One of the things that Jesus did in this sermon is he taught his disciples to pray. He said,
“Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” Matthew 6: 9-14 CEB
Tucked within this prayer is the petition to “give us the bread we need for today.” Right before this, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God and right after this Jesus is talking about forgiveness from sin and freedom from temptation. Kingdom, bread and forgiveness. Do these things seem like an un-likely grouping? Why common bread in the midst of these lofty theological ideas?
The people listening to the words of Jesus would have thought about the story in Exodus 16, which I reflected on last week. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2021/march/jesus-and-bread.html) I imagine them breathing in deep and letting their memories from childhood stories about the people of Israel in the desert flood their minds and re-play like a movie scene. For the people of Israel, these manna stories were a part of their DNA. This was a defining story in the life of God’s people. God provided for God’s people through the daily miracle of bread and this daily provision reminded God’s people of who God is. The manna was bread from heaven. The manna was the daily place where heaven and earth came together. The manna was both common and divine. The manna was provision for the day and it was a promise for tomorrow. This is the bread that Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount.
In reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, N.T. Wright calls this bread the “food of Inaugurated Eschatology.” (The Lord and His Prayer, N.T. Wright). For Wright, the end times are inaugurated in Jesus. Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God and ushers us into a waiting period that many scholars refer to the “already and not yet” reality of the Kingdom of God. And the bread that Jesus prays for in the Matthew 6:9-14 is the very sustenance that we need for life in this Kingdom. This bread is a daily miracle. This bread is where heaven and earth meet. This bread is enough for today. This bread is a promise for tomorrow. This bread is given to us from God in small ways and in large ways every day. This bread is both spiritual and physical provision.
The question we are invited to answer in this Lenten season is: Do we trust God for today’s bread?
Would you join me in praying this prayer:
Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.