We say grace before meals because Jesus did, and after Him, the apostles did. It’s a tradition established to help us remember, not once a year on Thanksgiving, not once a week on Sundays, but multiple times a day, to stop and give thanks. Yet, as with any tradition, it’s easy to let it become a habit of duty, void of meaning. Then the whole purpose behind the tradition gets lost. When that happens, even the tradition itself becomes relative. Mornings are too busy getting out the door and breakfast is on the run, or maybe it’s just a cup of coffee – who prays over that? Lunch is with people at the office who don’t pray before their meals and we don’t want them to be uncomfortable (or more likely we’re rushing through it and don’t think to stop), or maybe it’s just me at home eating by myself while I get things done. Dinner is not always all together – kids eating separately because of activities or early bedtimes. Many times it’s the “be sure to say your prayers” shout from the kitchen to the table where they are eating. I’ve been in each of these situations… this week. And praying before the meal gets either overlooked or “done to be done”. So I say all this because God has been pointing it out to me personally.
Have you ever noticed how much God talks about food in the Bible? I did a study on Deuteronomy once and I was just amazed (and loved) how central food and eating was to our communion with God. Every festival involved eating, the meetings on the mountain tops. The sacrificial system (I think God loves BBQ as much as we do, the aromas of smoked lamb with bitter herbs – come on!). Jesus with the disciples, with people, he was always eating at their homes. And finally, heaven. We are going to eat in heaven and it will be glorious. Because eating together is community, sharing a table and a meal is relationship in its most comfortable form. So when we pray before the meal, it’s giving thanks for the food, it’s saying thank you to our provider and sustainer, but it’s something else too – it’s inviting Jesus to join you at the table. It’s a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It’s having communion with the people you are eating with, even if it’s just you and Jesus. By giving thanks, we are inviting it to be about more than the food and the “function of food” to nourish our bodies – but we say “man does not live on bread alone”. We invite it to be about the table… the people we are sitting around it and He who sits at the head – the one and only God who sustains us. With thanksgiving so close, it’s been a humble reminder – it’s not about the food (even though in our family it is a bonafide feast) rather it’s about the table. In thanksgiving we invite Jesus to join us, His Spirit to be among us, and that the table would remind us of the glorious heavenly banquet to come.