Lord, Be Present at Our Table

given on Sunday, August 2, 2015

Growing up, Dad always said grace before every meal we ate at home. He did not offer grace when we were eating at a restaurant. At the time, the routine was just that—routine. I never really thought about what he said or did not say.

If it was a three-generation meal, my grandfathers always included a blessing, too. But each grandpa had a different manner of handling the blessing. Pop, my paternal grandpa, used almost the very same words as Dad did. Obviously Dad learned his from Pop.

But with my maternal grandpa, the routine was a bit different. Grandpa Worsham gave the blessing when Dad was not there, but when Dad was at the table, Grandpa always had Dad offer the grace. Grandpa was Presbyterian, not Methodist, and his heritage was Scotch-Irish and Welch while Pop was pure German. I never thought ancestry would affect these two American men at the dinner table.

Since Dad’s death, I have tried and tried to remember the words used in that blessing. I could get a few words and remember some of the particulars, but I could not reconstruct the entire grace. I even took the question to my two family reunions. None of us could get any further than the first few words.

Table graces, blessings or prayer—whichever word you use—is a common practice around Christian tables. Looking for the historical origin is challenging because the practice of blessing one’s food before eating seems to be practiced by almost every faith system.

The Christian tradition of offering prayers before eating may trace its origin directly backs to Jesus. One website listed references to Jesus blessing the food before meals in a variety of New Testament verses. The Jewish faithful offered a prayer before meals, so historians believe that Jesus followed that tradition, too.

Naturally the use of a blessing at mealtime can be connected to the Last Supper and consequently to the Christian practice of communion. Jesus blessed the bread and the wine before giving it to the disciples sitting around the table.

The term grace can be easily confused in Methodist conversations because John Wesley’s theology is built on the concept of grace, the four levels of grace. The table grace is not part of that theology but a prayer offered to God in thanks for the meal and more. There is no required set of words or format, but some table graces have been preserved and some groups have established set prayers that are used in specific settings.

The words bring me back to my search for those of my dad’s. The only words I could remember were the opening and that was with the help of my cousin: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. . . When I googled that phrase, I discovered it was almost identical to the opening of the Moravian blessing:

Come, Lord Jesus, our guest to be
And bless these gifts
Bestowed by Thee.
And bless our loved ones everywhere,
And keep them in Your loving care
.

Still there was something unfamiliar with that opening and I kept searching. Another phrase came to mind: Bless this food, O Lord, we pray. . .  and that matches another traditional prayer from the Irish heritage:

Bless, O Lord, this food we are about to eat; and we pray You, O God, that it may be good for our body and soul; and if there be any poor creature hungry or thirsty walking along the road, send them into us that we can share the food with them, just as You share your gifts with all of us.

Neither prayer is what Dad used, but his words did connect back to these yet reflected the family’s beliefs and their own traditions. Dad’s words may be lost, but the memory and the importance of using grace remains.

Most of us raised in the Christian tradition are familiar with the mealtime prayers, but many do not practice them. If they begin practicing table grace, they may struggle to find the words that fit them.

The website listed on the cover provides many options from which to choose, but sometimes the most heartfelt blessings or prayers are simple and even childlike. When my kids were young, a simple table grace was part of the Grace Lutheran preschool:

Thank you, God, for this food,

for life, and health

and all that is good.—Amen.

Today, we come to the Lord’s table through the practice of communion. We do not use a table grace like we do around the daily kitchen or dining room table; instead we use the liturgy. The liturgy for today was written hundreds of years ago, but it reconnects us to the night Jesus shared the cup and the bread with his disciples before he was arrested, tried, and crucified.

The liturgy blesses the elements, retells the story, confesses our sins, and asks if we believe in Jesus who was sent to teach us how to love one another, and then died to take away our sins. Communion is a sacrament and in the Methodist denomination, it is an open table to anybody who accepts Christ as savior.

As part of a sacrament, there are a few things to understand about the process. The elements are not blessed until the “institution” is read. This is the section of the liturgy that never changes and tells that Jesus took the bread, tore it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “Take, eat, this is my body. . .” and when he took the cup saying, “Take, drink, this is the blood . . “

Once the elements are blessed, the leftovers are still blessed and are to be consumed while at the church or are disposed by returning it to the earth. This is the Methodist tradition and other denominations do things differently.

For instance, Methodists typically use grape juice rather than wine, but other denominations may use wine. One communion I recently participated in did not explain first that the outer cups were wine while the inner rings of cups were juice. It was a surprise when the ‘juice’ had a warming sensation as it went down.

The liturgy creates a continuity of the communion practice much like a table grace does when family or friends sit down to a meal together. The prayers reconnect us to God. We give thanks for the nourishment, thanks for the blessings God has provided, but we also thank God for those who prepared the meal, for the gifts that God provides Sometimes we include prayers of supplication and/or for forgiveness. These same elements are included in the practice of communion.

As God’s children, we are blessed. We are granted grace for our human mistakes. And when we talk with God, we are forgiven. The Christian practices we use in our daily lives keep us connected to God. When we pray together at our tables or during communion, we strengthen our relationship with God.

Table Grace for Communion

Be present at our table, Lord.

Bless the bread and the cup

We are about to share.

May the body and blood of Christ

Sustain our Christian faith

And strengthen our relationship with you.

Thank you for the blessings

You have granted us,

May we lovingly serve one another

So they may experience your grace

And be In Christian fellowship

Now and forever. —Amen

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2 Comments

Filed under Religion

2 responses to “Lord, Be Present at Our Table

  1. Thank you for the post. You may also want to research the early Moravian and Methodist Love Feasts. These incorporated some handed down prayers of thankfulness.

    For more on John Wesley, I would like to invite you to the website for the book series, The Asbury Triptych Series. The trilogy based on the life of Francis Asbury, the young protégé of John Wesley and George Whitefield, opens with the book, Black Country. The opening novel in this three-book series details the amazing movement of Wesley and Whitefield in England and Ireland as well as its life-changing effect on a Great Britain sadly in need of transformation. In one of the chapters, the book features a Wesleyan love feast. Black Country also details the Wesleyan movement’s effect on the future leader of Christianity in the American colonies, Francis Asbury. The website for the book series is http://www.francisasburytriptych.com. Please enjoy the numerous articles on the website. Again, thank you, for the post.

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