The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.’ So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, ‘In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?’ And Moses said, ‘When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.’
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
When we ask God to give us our daily bread it’s a daily reminder that our lives, like our bread, are gifts from God. In the middle of all the talk about heaven and God, the prayer now reminds us that we’re ordinary people who need food to eat, and it’s God’s gift to us.
St. Augustine said that when a priest prays a prayer thanksgiving at the altar it is more about acknowledging bread as a gift of a loving God, and therefore that it’s holy, than it is about any kind of transformation of that the ordinary bread into something strange and extraordinary.
Someone participating in that prayer might think that the bread on the altar looks suspiciously like the bread that they had for breakfast that morning, which wasn’t holy; but at breakfast they didn’t think of that bread as holy. And the Church is saying that’s the point, and after praying over bread at church on Sunday, perhaps you will eat your bread differently on Monday.
St. Gregory of Nyssa noted that in the Lord’s Prayer when we consider all that we need, the only thing we are permitted to ask for is something so basic as bread.
St. Basil the Great said that nothing that belongs to us is ours alone, particularly that which we have in excess of “our daily bread”. The bread going mouldy because we have too much belongs to the hungry. The shoes that are sitting unloved in the cupboard belong to those who have none. The clothes never worn in our wardrobe belong to those who are naked. Our bread is not ours to hoard. Our bread belongs also to our sisters and brothers, God’s gift which, like so many other good gifts of God, we don’t always appreciate as much as we might. You may well think at this point the prayer is hitting too close to home. Things are getting serious.
Generous God, can we who every day eat more than meets our need, yet know of those to whom bread is denied, still come to your table and take bread? Amen.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is Minister of the Spire Church, Farnham, Elstead URC, and serves as Clerk of the General Assembly.
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