Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Grace! It's What's Before Dinner.

Dear Friends,

When I was a kid, we said grace at every meal and our family tradition was for us to take turns. My mom and dad said the traditional prayers of the Episcopal Church that were found in the back of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and my dad would solemnly intone: “Bless O Lord, thy gifts to our use; And us to thy loving service; And make us ever mindful of the needs of others; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  

While I would like you to think that I was a deeply spiritual lad, the truth is that in my haste to eat, my prayer was a fast, three second one-word ritual: 

My sister’s grace was “Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub! Yay! God!” which was definitely not found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

Saying grace before the meal was so important to my family that on Thanksgiving and Christmas they even called in a professional. Well, sort of.. My mom's cousin was a Congregational Church minister so when their family came to dinner, he always became the designated “pray-er.” His church was the oldest (founded in 1867), largest Protestant church in Los Angeles and I looked up to and admired this man of God. He didn’t just say grace. He would incorporate a three-point sermon into a Thanksgiving prayer with words of thanks for everything and a word of blessing for everyone. By the time he was finished, the turkey had grown cold, a fatty layer had congealed on the now-chilled gravy and his own children would be looking at each other and sneaking glances at the dining room clock. But when you said “amen,” the meal had been sanctified and so had the family time. Our dining room had become a church and God had been invited to join us at the table. 

Giving a blessing after a meal comes from Jewish Law: “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you.” Deuteronomy 8:10 But in the New Testament, we find Jesus giving thanks to God before the meal. “And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples...” Mark 6:41 And then when Jesus met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” Luke 24:30 Jesus’ prayer of thanks to the Father before meals became a Christian liturgy taught by His disciples and we read, “And when he (Paul) had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat.” Acts 27:35

Saying grace is the spiritual time-out between the flurry of activity before the meal and the meal itself. It's the quiet moment at home when the food has been brought to the table. It's the moment at the restaurant when the waiter has hustled off to fetch ketchup for the fries. We pause and bow our heads in prayer. We ask God to bless and sanctify our meal in remembrance that all that we have, including all that we eat, is from God, and we are thankful to Him for His good and perfect gifts to us. James 1:17 

It's also the pause to remember that our meals are not magically transported to our plate after being created in the "StarTrek Replicator." Someone grew, raised or caught your food. If you are eating vegetables, someone spent all day bent over at the waist in the hot sun to handpick them for you. In the grocery store, a minimum-wage produce clerk carefully arranged those veggies on the chilled shelves and perhaps someone other than yourself prepared and cooked your meal. We are thankful for them. And as we sit down to an abundant meal, we are also mindful that according to Christian agencies, 925 million people in the world will go to bed tonight still hungry. We pray for them. Perhaps we even pray for God to show us how we can help someone in need.

If you don't normally say grace, start a new tradition in your life and express your gratitude to a gracious God before your meals. Extemporaneous prayers from the heart are wonderful and so are the timeless traditional prayers. You just read the Episcopal prayer in the first paragraph and a traditional Catholic prayer is “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord.” Methodists pray, “Be present at our table Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may feast in fellowship with Thee.” A beautiful Eastern Orthodox prayer is “O Christ God, bless the food and drink of Thy servants, for holy art Thou, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.” A traditional Lutheran prayer is “Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed.” (Unless you’re a youth pastor at a Baptist Bible Camp you may not want to pray my sister’s prayer and I know you can do better than my childhood grace!) But no matter how and what you pray, this Thanksgiving make sure someone says grace before you tuck into that plate of turkey because “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

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