Monday, March 11, 2013

Say Grace

HK Wan Chai Hennessy Road �--�森林 茶餐廳 New Forest restaurant food beef rice Feb-2012
At our house we say grace, but I don't often think about why. We have guests regularly, and we often need to explain. We say that we are Christians, and it's our habit to thank God for the food He gives us.  Exchanging uncomfortable glances, they sit quietly and listen to the words.  It's a gentle witness to who we are.  Our more curious and courageous guests ask, "Do you HAVE to pray?"  We have always told them no, that it was just our custom.  There is no Biblical command that says you HAVE to pray before you eat but we do because we're thankful. 

That's not the only reason though.  I take comfort in prayer because of the suspicions I have about our food. I wonder if the oil the restaurant is using is "old" (in other words rendered from the trash the restaurant collected from the last several days).   I wonder how long ago the meat was butchered that I bought this morning. I wonder what chemicals were sprayed on the vegetables I am scrubbing.  What can I do?  I can trust that when my husband says, "Please bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our bodies to Your service" that God will hear and bless.
There's another reason to say grace that I got to thinking about. Jesus prayed over His food too.  In every gospel there are multiple examples.  He blessed the loaves and fishes before he broke the bread and fed the 5,000 (Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9 and John 6).  He prayed over the food he fed to the hungry 4,000 in Mark 8.  He prayed over the bread and cup he served at the last supper (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22).  

These examples stand out because Jesus was doing a miracle or presiding at Passover. I get that.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, dinner with the preacher, everyone knows that on special occasions we pray for the food!  

There's one example though that's strangely ordinary.  One Sunday night, two disciples were walking along and meet a stranger.  Miserable, the disciples tell him about the worst passover weekend they've ever experienced.  Their rabbi is dead in the most shameful and horrific way possible.  The stranger, using the Old testament prophecies, begins to explain that the Messiah had to die.  When they made it to Emmaus, it was dinner time.  Sitting down to eat together, the stranger took the role of host; "He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it He began giving it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him" (Luke 24). The teacher they loved was the stranger on the road.  The teacher they lost was the resurrected Messiah.

That last detail floors me. Why was it the act of receiving food from the Master's hand that opened their eyes? I wonder how many times they had dinner with Jesus? Did they recognize him because they had heard that particular pre-dinner prayer a thousand times?  Was it something in the word or the habit that made him known?  We often know a person we loved but are long removed from by a quirk, a glance, a smile.  Did they know Jesus this way?  Did he seem oddly familiar until his identity was suddenly revealed in this habit of praying before a meal? Perhaps instead, they suddenly recognized him because the Holy Spirit revealed him?  If so, why did the Holy Spirit wait till that moment?  What was so special about saying grace and serving the food?   

When we say grace at our dinner table, it is not only because we are indeed truly thankful for the food God has given us.  It's not only because being in prayer is the place we always need to be.  It's also because it's one of the many ways we follow our Savior.  Jesus prayed over miraculous dinners, over holiday dinners and even over an ordinary meal with a pair of sad and lonely disciples. If the one who blessed the world can bless His food, we can too!
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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