"Give us today our daily bread." This petition from the Lord's Prayer can become so familiar we forget both for what we pray and what God promises. That changed dramatically as Lutherans from 145 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Lutherans, gathered in Stuttgart, Germany, for the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation ("LWF addresses past with eyes on future").
This was a praying assembly with "Give Us Today Our Daily Bread" as our theme. Each day, one word of the petition was highlighted in worship and Bible study, evoking discussions in village groups, public hearings and plenary sessions.
Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism: "In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving."
Joyful promise and thanksgiving marked daily worship as we gathered to receive God's gift of grace and forgiveness in Christ, the bread of life sent from heaven. I pray that every ELCA member might have this experience: a profound sense of unity that is God's gift to us in Christ, proclaimed and celebrated amid the rich diversity of languages and cultures, histories and songs, rhythms and rituals.
Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams concluded his keynote address on the assembly theme with these words: " 'Give us this day our daily bread' ... is a prayer, simply, for Christ to be our food and sustenance, so that all self-sufficient pride, all individual anxiety and defensiveness, all greedy effort to live at the expense of the neighbor are overcome, and the church declares with clarity and conviction that there is indeed bread for the world's hunger to be found in the body of the Lord. May that clarity and conviction — and the repentant self-awareness that goes with it — be always ours."
Williams reminded us of the link between the petition for daily bread and forgiveness, saying: "Forgiveness is one of the most radical ways in which we are able to nourish one another's humanity." As an assembly, we asked for forgiveness from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers for the violence done to Anabaptist Christians in Reformation times and its continuing legacies in Lutheran teachings. It was a powerful witness as many delegates were on their knees in this public act of repentance. Then we heard the promise of God's mercy in Christ and the words of forgiveness from Mennonite leaders: "Today you have heard and honored our story," an experience of reconciliation that promises hope for the future.
This moment was witnessed by ecumenical representatives and became a powerful testimony to our living out the message and ministry of reconciliation in Christ that has been entrusted to us (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). Some expected this assembly to become focused on differences that might even lead to division in the LWF. Instead we returned repeatedly to this spirit of repentance and forgiveness.
The witness of the assembly was the joyful confidence that God answers our prayers for daily bread by giving abundantly and mercifully all that we have and all that the world needs for daily life. As Luther reminds us, daily bread includes all the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, so the theme evoked discussions on food security, climate change, economic greed, illegitimate debt, human trafficking, HIV prevention and gender justice.
The assembly also was a time of transition in LWF leadership. Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land was elected LWF president. Martin Junge from Chile will succeed Ishmael Noko as general secretary. We elected a very strong council, including ELCA Treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton, who will serve as LWF treasurer and chair the finance committee, and ELCA delegates Mikka McCracken and Robin Steinke, who will serve with me on the council.
In the opening worship, the plea and prayer of Ruth resounded throughout the sanctuary: "Your people shall be my people" (1:16). As we left the assembly, it was evident the Spirit had deepened our commitment to being one communion of churches, richly diverse and firmly united in proclaiming Christ and engaging together in God's mission of restoring community and healing the world.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers