Every week at my church, after the elements of bread and wine have been consecrated, we sing the Lord’s prayer as we stand in a circle around the Communion table and the presiding priest. The priest will sing a brief story of creation, fall and redemption tailored to the place we’re in on the Church calendar, we’ll sing a worshipful response, and all will bow as the priest lifts the bread, with a cross shape impressed into the top, and the wine, presenting them to us and the Lord. The gifts of God for the people of God. I’ve come to very much appreciate this liturgical practice, especially the lines “our daily bread” now reverberating throughout my week. There is so much packed into these three little words – the phrase masterfully captures so much about Christian life I long and hope for.
So we start with “our.” This is inherently a communal word; what we are praying we are praying together. This entire prayer is sopping with “our” language in Matthew’s version of it (6:9-13). Luke’s version (11:1-4) is shorter and has a more spur-of-the-moment feel; it begins merely “Father” rather than “our Father,” but the petitions – including asking for “our daily bread” – are all plural. It is not “I” or “my” but “our” and “we.” We are created for belonging in a community, and we are utterly dependent on community.
But just who is this community? Matthew’s Gospel includes the Lord’s Prayer as part of one of Jesus’ organized, deliberate teachings: it is the structural (and theological) center of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins His prayer “Our Father.” Those, then, who recite what follows, from “hallowed be Your name” to “Yours is the kingdom and the glory and the power forever, Amen” are the people of God the Father. This prayer is to be prayed be those who confess God as “Father.”
But what does it mean to call God “Father”? It, of course, does not mean we think God is gendered. There are many mother-like qualities of God, too. This is not an elevation of father over mother or man over woman. In the first-Century culture(s) the Scriptures were written in, “father” generally meant something like “provider,” “the one responsible for the welfare and well being of the family,” “the one who gives direction to the family.” A prominent understanding of God as “Father” for that time and place was God as Creator. The (Aramaic) word Jesus would have used – Abba – connotes closeness, safety, intimacy. So what you’re doing when you call God “Father” is confessing that God is your source, your creator, your intimate provider. You look to nothing and no one else for sustenance. You depend on God for your well being. To call God Father is to call Jesus your brother.
To call God “Father” also names a relationship. To be a father, you have to have a son. You are confessing God, then, as Relationship, as Community. Community is so vital to our well being because it is from the Eternal Community we were created. To say “our daily bread” is to name something about our nature, the way we were fashioned by the hand of God. So the community that prays for daily bread is the family that, in one voice, confesses God as Maker, Sustainer, Leader. It is this framework in which we will consider “daily bread.”