Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Give us this day our daily bread..."

Michael Crosby, writing about the petition in the Our Father in which we ask, "Give us this day our daily bread," says:

"To ask with such confidence implies a relationship of trust. If we have problems trusting in God , it's not likely we'll be able to pray this petition from our heart. It's not likely, either, that we will have much of a personal relationship with our God" (Michael Crosby from The Prayer That Jesus Taught Us). The Father offers us friendship through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Friendship is always a matter of the heart, not to mention a matter of obedience, perhaps better denoted as faithfulness. The Old Testament Canticle for Morning Prayer this Saturday after Ash Wednesday is Ezekiel 36:24-28. In this passage God, speaking through his prophet, says to his exiled people, who, like us have been unfaithful to their covenant, "I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts." It always amazes me that Ezekiel does not say God will give them supernatural, but natural, hearts. In my own midrash, I think this refers to the state of original grace, the original state of harmony, or communion, the state in which all things, including human beings, originally shared, a state that was lost through disobedience. This is the kind of renewal God seeks, a complete transformation. The transformation God seeks, which always requires our cooperation because God does not force us, is to become who we are, who God, out of love, created, redeemed us, and now sanctifies us to be. Lent is the Church's springtime. Hence, it is a season when what appears to be dead comes to back to life.

At the heart of the covenant is, "you shall be my people and I will be your God" (Ezk. 36:28). This is the only covenant God has ever sought with humankind, who He made in His image and likeness, from the beginning, even before the fall. This is why God's covenant with Israel is not superceded. Rather, through Christ, as St. Paul seeks to point out again and again, we merely come to share in this covenant, all are invited to share in the wedding feast, the marriage of Christ with humanity.

We know that we cannot live by bread alone (Luke 4:4). The Word of God is what sustains us and all things. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, is the Bread of Life. Unless "you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (Jn 6:53). After all, as our Lord himself points out, those who ate manna in the desert eventually died (Jn. 6:49). He is "the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die" (Jn. 6:50). At each celebration of the Eucharist, our covenant is renewed.

It is not only possible, but necessary, to ask in our fasting "give us this day our daily bread" and then intensify our Scripture reading and praying. In this way, we will be filled, not only with what we truly need, but with what we most desire. In this way we will develop the kind of personal relationship with God, a relationship in which we come to trust God and so be able to pray this petition with the kind of confidence necessary to help usher in God's kingdom.

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