The Prayer of Prayers 4

March 17th, 2014

Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

The power of those simple words 'daily bread' as we reflect upon them seems endless. It is as if we created a ripple in a pond which goes out in every direction at once until everything is touched and perturbed by its profound influence. The question for the hapless writer is where to begin.

True, we could simply start by considering how the petition is one of physical sustenance given by God. Our lives are sustained by the divine—without the purpose of God we would not draw another breath. However when Jesus calls himself 'the living bread which came down from heaven' (St John 6:51) we are transported to a spiritual understanding of the daily bread that includes sustenance of the body while simultaneously transcending merely physical existence.

What immediately comes to mind is God's feeding of the Exodus people with manna (Exodus 16) which only continued for a day and could not be stored. This indicates that Christ, the divine bread, is for us sustenance for an exodus from sin's captivity—God gives us nourishment, both of body and soul, to journey on. The Eucharistic association with Christ's body, manna, bread is so evident almost not to require remarking. By extension, as we make our journey of faith, every meal we share in fellowship assumes a sacramental character—whether it be the Holy Communion or a sandwich shared with someone who has forgotten to pack one! Indeed, all of our experience, understood with 'the mind of Christ' (1 Corinthians 2:16) becomes potentially full of God's Presence.

The Greek word variously rendered in English 'trespasses' or 'debts' includes the idea of going beyond appropriate bounds. Personally I prefer 'debts' since 'trespass' has acquired a forensic association (the breaking of laws) while 'debts' expresses what we owe according to our created nature to both God and to other human beings. When we fail to 'pay our debts' to our own created nature, we become slightly less human, slightly further away from the person God purposes us to be. Notice that we say 'as we also have forgiven', it is an action in the past, completed before we say the prayer. This reminds us of Jesus' teaching about making peace with one's brother before offering sacrifice at the Temple (St Matthew 5:24). The implication is crystal clear, an unforgiving heart cannot be forgiven without at the very least an attempt to be reconciled. Having said that, true forgiveness is an act of God's grace in us, else how could the victim humanly forgive their persecutor. Our human will must first be engaged, which then God accepts as the genuine offering of 'a broken and contrite spirit' (Psalm 51:17). We are not required to 'feel good' about those who offend us or to try desperately to find some redeeming feature of their characters. We forgive as an act of obedience to Christ because He first forgave us.

Holy Christ,
As we follow you,
Feed us on this immortal and
Redeeming bread always.

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