Give Us This Day
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
Praying before meals is one of the great Christian traditions. Aside from attending church on Sunday, it is perhaps the one habit that most Christians carry out with regularity. The Anglican tradition has always emphasized the importance of praying at mealtime. In fact, in 1553, King Edward VI published 13 sample prayers for laity to say at meals, some of which were to be prayed “after” the meal! While that might be a bit ambitious for modern folks, our tradition still has some wonderful helps. The Book of Common Prayer contains four prayers to pray before meals, called “Grace at Meals” (BCP, p. 835). These prayers are short and to the point—no one wants listen to someone getting caught up on his/her prayer life after the food is served!
The tradition of praying at meals is a Biblical one. During the course of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus makes a connection between prayer and food. Here, Jesus prays the fourth petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” At the heart of this request is an implicit acknowledgement that God is the one who furnishes us with the sustenance of life. While Jesus uses the term “bread” to refer to food in general, Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, extends it further to include “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors and the like.” In short, it is a heartfelt acknowledgement that God has bestowed upon us whatever is good and life-giving.
It might not seem so at first, but praying “Give us this day our daily bread” is radical. That’s because, for most Americans, there is a tendency to think that we are in control. Modern advantages like access to information, technology and medicine bring a sense of certainty. Yet recent times have taught us that unanticipated events do come along. Things like pandemics, layoffs and natural disasters remind us that life is unpredictable. So, when we pray to God for our “daily bread,” we accept that life is beyond our control and trust in God for our necessities: the source of all that is life-giving and good.