Beloved People of St. Martin’s,
This Sunday in our gospel we will hear one of the two texts that helped shape what is probably the most familiar Christian prayer to most of us. Whether it is called “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Our Father,” “Pater Noster” if you’re really old school (as in ancient Rome old), some version of it is prayed together at every Eucharist, in both morning and evening prayer. Some of us pray this prayer to help us sleep, or when we are frightened.
It is hardly likely that when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray that they did not know how to pray—rather, they were seeking guidance on a way to pray that would be as unique to them as the prayers that John taught his followers. The Jewish Kaddish prayer is similar to the start of this prayer, after all—God as ruler of the universe was already a vital tenet. Much remains a mystery about the actual words Jesus used—Jesus probably spoke Aramaic (the kingdom of Aram lies in modern-day Syria near modern Aleppo), and few modern speakers remain. The version in Luke’s gospel that we will hear this weekend does not completely correspond with the version in Matthew. No matter what, the words we say are translations of translations of translations, and interpretations on top of that. As a collector of prayers, I know several versions of this prayer—there are two in our prayer book, and then there’s a beautiful one from New Zealand which borrows heavily from the work of an English priest named Jim Cotter—part of which we include after the traditional version is prayed together at the 505.
Yet no matter which version I pray, something new almost always catches my heart each time I pray it. Lately, it has been the third sentence Jesus teaches in our reading this week, written in Luke as “Give us each day our daily bread.” I have heard several scholars suggest that a better translation that would be less redundant is “Give us tomorrow’s bread today.” That interpretation opens up a wealth of possibilities.
This is the prayer of a humble laborer, who will rise from sleep hungry if there is no bread in the house before they go out to search for work the next day. Being given tomorrow’s bread today allows you to sleep at peace, knowing that at least the morning will not start with hunger but with strength, which of course also leads to gratitude. It’s a simple request, a basic request, a life-giving request. If we have tomorrow’s bread today, we can rest a little easier about the future, and center our prayers on God in gratitude rather than in fear.
It’s a petition that transcends any one group’s experience: the great Indian sage and freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi once said, “There are people in this world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” With that statement, bread goes from being humble sustenance to something no one should be asked to live without. What if we understood God as our sustenance, as what keeps us from perilous hunger and need? Maybe it is just that simple and direct at times, especially times of fear, want, and need. Tomorrow’s bread is the bread of hope—and this prayer reveals both our dependence and our trust upon God.
Tomorrow’s bread is also the bread of fellowship: in the sentence before, we have prayed for God’s kingdom to come now, and immediately afterward Jesus talks about a neighbor asking for bread in the middle of the night when company arrives. Tomorrow’s bread is given to us so that we may share what we have, no matter how little that may be, with those whose needs are as great or even greater than our own. I think of the millions of children in this country and around the world who are already food insecure, and the stresses they undergo wondering if they will receive tomorrow’s bread.
As we gather around the altar this weekend, may we share with each other not just today’s bread, but tomorrow’s too. May we covenant as we pray this prayer together to work for bread for the world, especially for the vulnerable, that all may have tomorrow’s bread today.