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In the name of + God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

The other night, I was invited to High Table at St John’s. It was a nice evening, but I think what I enjoyed most was the moment when the person who had invited me pointed out a portrait hanging next to the fireplace.

It was a painting of Yoda, smuggled in by persons unknown but presumably JCR members, and I have to admit it fitted in remarkably well with the pictures of decrepit academics of times past. The really funny thing, though, was that it turned out that even though the painting had been there for several weeks, half the SCR members present hadn’t actually noticed. And conversation ensued, including certain dons saying things like “Who is Yoda?”

The striking thing about this – other than the fact that there are apparently still Oxford academics who have not only never seen Star Wars, but don’t actually know what it is, which frankly I find incredible – is how that exemplifies a very common experience, but one that I’ve been increasingly aware of as my time in Oxford, in Oriel, draws to a close.

It’s the way that if things are there all the time, you generally don’t notice them. You take them for granted.

You stop seeing them, and it’s only when something happens to draw your attention to it that you see them again. Recently I’ve been noticing lots of things about life in college that I’d almost stopped noticing, even though they mean a lot to me, just because they were always there. They range from Thursday night Eucharists to the view of St Mary the Virgin’s spire to Formal Hall, and of course above all the people who, whether they’re moving on or staying here, I won’t see as much of. I don’t think I’ll miss Cream in a Bowl, but you never know, I suppose.

You take things for granted if you see them all the time.

And the Lord’s Prayer, I think, apt to be one of the things we take for granted. I say it once or twice a day, frequently more often – it’s said twice at Evensong, for instance - and it’s easy just to repeat without thinking it. It’s just there. Until you stop and think about it, as today’s reading, which describes Christ teaching the prayer to his friends, invites us to do.

So this is how we are taught to pray; it’s the paradigm for all Christian prayer, and the heart of the life of the church, of Christian living.

It’s also quite counterintuitive, in that it cuts against our ideas about how we ought to live. Which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising, given that the Gospel tends to do this. If we listen to the Gospel, rather than taking it for granted (which I’m afraid I find I often tend to do) it’s almost unbelievable how casually we take the breath-taking, appalling depth of God’s love for us, though it’s a very human thing to do, and in some ways probably necessary.

One of the most disconcerting parts of the Lord’s prayer, in my view, is the apparently harmless request “give us this day our daily bread”. Bread which can be all kinds of things: both things that meet our material needs, or our emotional ones – like the love and support of friends – but also, the presence of God, transforming our lives, in word and sacrament and in the love of others. In some ways, I think this is more disconcerting than “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” - that’s difficult to put into practice, and rather scary, but it isn’t quite as startling in itself.

Give us this day our daily bread: it’s a rather frightening prayer, really; it’s asking for enough, just enough, without the margin of comfort and security we’d like. Bread for today; not bread for the week, not even bread for the next few days. Bread for today, given over and over again. But bread we have to ask for, day by day. Not something we can, entirely, take for granted.

In fact, some people do translate it “give us this day our bread for tomorrow;” but I don’t think this makes it all that much easier. It’s still just enough, no more; something we have to ask for, day by day, without being able to make plans for. Which runs counter to what seems like good sense – making plans, budgeting is such a normal part of life that this is almost a little embarrassing, and rather frightening. It’s like setting out on a journey when you only have a tiny bit of a map and the vaguest idea of how to reach your ultimate goal. The only security the prayer allows us to ask for is the security that comes from trust in God as a loving father; not the security that comes from knowing that we have everything under control, have thought of all eventualities, know the road ahead.

Give us this day our daily bread. Just enough for the next stage of the journey. When you stop and think about it, it’s actually quite a brave thing to ask.

And yet. To me, it suddenly seems to make more sense than it did. When you’re doing a degree, whether it’s undergraduate or post-graduate, you feel as if you’re in a well-worn groove – largely because you are – however difficult individual bits are, it quickly becomes known territory. It’s mapped out, familiar, you know what you’re doing and where you’re going.

And then you approach the end of things, and suddenly it can seem as if there’s a large blank space, and you’ve no idea what’s going to happen. All you can do is step out, and trust that God is with you.

Give us this day our daily bread. I know some of us have a much better idea of what we’ll be doing in the immediate future than others; but even those of us who do think we know what’s going to happen can’t, I suspect, help but be aware that it’s an uncertain world. And for those of us who are leaving college, whatever else, the world outside the sheltering or sometimes stifling walls of college will be different.

I’ve loved my time in Oriel, mostly; even the bits that were unhappy at the time have given me something I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I don’t know quite what next year will be like, and though I have some ideas of how I would like the next few years to go, of where I’d like to be, I’m uncomfortably aware that a lot of it isn’t actually in my own hands. All I can do, really, all anyone can do, is to have faith that God will lead us where he wants us to go. And, in faith, ask for the strength for each stage of the journey, and do without the security of being able to take things for granted; as we ask this, together, for all of us.

Give us all, dear Father, this day our daily bread.
+ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-21 11:32 pm (UTC)
maeve_rigan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] maeve_rigan
I happened to login here, as I rarely do, and read your sermon--very good. And I wondered--who's the saint in your icon?


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