It was Grace that started me thinking about this writing space — not Grace-with-a-capital-G-Jesus-Grace, but grace said before meals. A specific meal. The first Friendship Table dinner I worked at with the Deacons left me with thoughts that seemed worth sharing and a wondering where and how to share them. Here we are, several months later, and as we prepare for another Friendship Table meal, I am thinking about grace, once again.
I had been told that the honor of saying grace before the Friendship Table meal is served is usually reserved for 2 of the guests who come each week. It is one of those unwritten rules. This week, neither of the men who usually offered grace were there; I asked one of the Deacons if I should offer to bless the meal. She thought for a moment and said maybe we could see if anyone else would like to bless the food. I welcomed our visitors, and then extended the invitation to those waiting in line – -“would anyone like to bless the meal?” There may have been the sounds of pins dropping, some crickets chirping, and then a man in an orange t-shirt raised his hand and said “I would.” I asked his name, and he said “Tom*”
“Tom, please pray for us.”
I honestly do not remember the prayer he prayed. You could tell it was one he had learned in childhood and had been saying all his life. Maybe it was “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest” or “God is great, God is good.” It was honest. It was heartfelt. A few minutes later, I passed by his table, and he waved me over.
“It’s been a long time since anyone asked me to say the blessing. Thank you for the honor.”
The honor of saying the blessing. Those words are words that are still making me think. In my line of work I get asked to pray over a lot of meals. Sometimes, these prayers can feel routine – -the room quiets for a momentary pause in conversation and then the buzz continues right where it left off. These prayers do not mean any less than the ones I pray in worship or in hospitals or at bedsides. But it took someone in a bright orange t-shirt to remind me that it is an honor to thank God for the meal we are eating, to thank the one who created for us the seeds that grew the grain and the people who harvested it. There are people who are never asked to say grace – maybe they are not seen as articulate enough, or holy enough. There are people who refuse to say it when asked – -they worry their words for God are not good enough for everyone to hear. The thought that either of these scenarios would be true breaks my heart, and yet they are.
I also have wondered if perhaps there are ways to extend this honor to more of you. Sunday, I was asked to bless the brunch before worship, and it was not until just now (on Tuesday) that I thought, “I wonder if anyone else would have liked to have done that.” I wonder what will happen if I just ask someone to say the blessing?
What I learned from Tom that day was that the words don’t have to be fancy, poetic, or long. Just honest — and not always said by the ones we expect to say them. I have seen the the most beautiful blessings said by the most unlikely people. Sometimes the words from childhood are the ones that say the most:
God is great.
God is good.
And we thank God for our food
By God’s hands we all are fed
Thank you God for daily bread.