The petition begins by pointing us toward God’s abundant grace. The prayer assures us that our daily bread is a provision of the “exceeding riches of his grace” (Eph 2:7). The food on our table has been set there by the Father’s gracious hand. So that with each bite we partake in, we hear “by grace are you fed, and that is not of yourselves” (cf. Eph 2:8).
Grace has a crunchy feel on our mouth, it is tasty on our tongue, and our lips sip it as we imbue that cup of hot cocoa. Yet, it is grace, pure and simple. It is grace made manifest in the plate. Even though the horn of plenty on our table is there as the fruit of our labor, that is also a gift of God’s grace. The health for our labor comes from the same source. Health, work, and food, all carry the same label, “Provided by the Kingdom of Heaven.”
These are blessings we are called to share. In the post-Second World War, the United States distributed 100 million CARE packages to war ravaged areas. These contained basic rations of milk powder, cheese, rice, and beans. Most Americans participated in the funding, sending, and distribution. Today, hundreds of nations have joined the world-wide effort “to feed the hungry” through organizations that provide “daily bread” to millions of empty tables. “For I was hungry and you gave me food” (Matt 25:35). We are called to be God’s answer to the prayers of millions for their “daily bread.”
However, many of us, through the gift of God’s grace as well, are able to fill our pantries through our daily work. As proud of our labor as we may be for “putting food on the table,” each meal is a heavenly sent CARE package. This grace from God is a gift we take too much for granted. What’s more, the table is set by God’s grace on believers and unbelievers, the world over. “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt 5:45). Whether or not we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” the provision is there on our table, for some meager, for others plentiful.
For those of us who pray from the abundance of our tables, Jesus’ intention in the Fourth Petition was more like, “Give us this day our daily gratitude.” Our thankfulness would include all those who took part in setting our tables. There’s a whole cloud of people who in a figurative way, sit at the table with us, from the farmer to the stocking clerk. We give thanks for them, too, pray for their provisions, and recognize them as instruments of God’s grace.
Martin Luther was well aware of the vast reach of this Petition. Commenting on the Fourth Petition in his Large Catechism he said,
Here, now, we consider the poor bread basket, the necessaries of our body and of the temporal life. It is a brief and simple word, but it has a very wide scope. For when you mention and pray for daily bread, you pray for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread and, on the other hand, against everything which interferes with it. Therefore you must open wide and extend your thoughts not only to the oven or the flour-bin, but to the distant field and the entire land, which bears and brings to us daily bread and every sort of sustenance. For if God did not cause it to grow, and bless and preserve it in the field, we could never take bread from the oven or have any to set upon the table.
Luther even extended the Petition to include the government, local authorities, and even the centers of commerce, for their responsibility in providing our daily bread.
However, it is difficult to read “give us our daily bread” without hearing the distant echo of the Old Testament manna sent from heaven to the Israelites.
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 (Exod 16:4).
With the incarnate Christ, that promise became a Messianic prophecy fulfilled in him.
Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:32-35).
Picture the moment. There is a large gathering of Israelites. Before them is the Incarnate Manna, the Bread of Heaven, Jesus the Christ. And he himself is teaching the listeners to pray daily for the bread which comes down from heaven. Grace has come down from heaven and is before them daily, feeding them with his words. He is teaching them to daily pray to be fed from his flesh for eternal life.
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh...This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever (John 6:48-51, 58).
In, with, and under the forms of consecrated bread and wine, we commune with Christ’s real presence in the Sacrament of Communion. Yet, even at our tables, his presence is with us through the bounteous gifts of his grace. Indeed, in the food we eat, in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, his all-sufficient grace is there answering our prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.”