The Gift of (Table) Grace

February 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Pastor's Corner

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Grace isn’t a simple word to define. When I ask a youth to define what grace is, I’m hoping to hear them say something along the lines of “God’s free, undeserved, unearned gift of love and forgiveness.” For short, God’s grace is a gift.

But what I often hear is that a dancer has grace, which is to say poise or skill or elegance. I suppose our God has these qualities, and this is actually the first definition of the word on dictionary.com. No wonder the word is so difficult to define, grace has 22 entries as a noun, verb, and idiom. Only at #8 do we get “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.”

Another common response on the meaning of grace is the prayer we say before or after a meal. (That’s entry #10.) “Let’s say grace,” you might hear your host say. I used to almost begrudge this response because I was trying to teach them #8. But I’ve lately reflected on the significance of table grace (#10) for three reasons.

One. My wife and I were on State Street in Madison, catching supper before a show at the Overture Center. We dined at a small Peruvian Restaurant. (Try the “lomo saltado” or “pan con lomo.”) A nearby couple paused before their meal to “say grace.” I couldn’t hear their words, but the sight was encouraging to me. We don’t see that all that often. It was subtle and brief, not showy. Becca and I did the same before our meal. I felt a bond with them. As they left, they told us to enjoy the show.

Two. A friend of mine, a faithful Christian, said that her family does not say a prayer together before they eat. To her it seems unnecessary and showy. Plus, it obligates the whole family to participate when they may not want to. She doesn’t want to push her children into faith practices. (I hope she’s willing to “push” her children into good dental hygiene or other healthy habits.)

Three. A grandmother of one of our Soul Troop kids recently reported that her grandson has introduced meal prayers to his family. She knows that the influence of Soul Troop was instrumental in his leading the family to say grace. He has enjoyed bringing this practice to his family.

I grew up saying a prayer before the meal (“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed, amen”) and after the meal (oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever, amen”). I’ll be honest, I said these words before I knew what I was saying. For a while I wondered what “tusby blust” (to us be blessed) was. And I said them plenty of times without thinking about what I was saying. But it mattered anyhow that we prayed.

A table prayer, before or after the meal, is a time to pause and acknowledge God’s presence. A simple grace is a ritual to remind us that we are not alone and that all we have is a gift from God. The words matter but the act of praying matters as much. It’s a way for the people you are with to pause and breathe and speak together. Grace unites us. Life is busy enough, do we have to rush through our meals, too? I’m now teaching our kids to wait to begin eating until after we’ve prayed. I’m glad we are. It’s an exercise in self-restraint and reverence. Every meal can be a celebration of God’s care and provision in our lives, set apart as holy and special by a moment of table grace.

When we appreciate the nourishment God provides for our bodies every day, we recognize a meal as grace, a gift from God. Fitting, then, that we should remember God’s grace with a table grace. The subtle impact of a simple prayer at a meal is another example of God’s grace and goodness to us.

In Christ,

Pastor Matthew Poock

P.S. For a resource of Seven Mealtime Prayers, see the wall display in the Gathering Area.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

-1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

  • Brooke Fraser

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