We always said grace at meals growing up. If we sat down together, we prayed together. We even had a schedule of who prayed for the meal on which day. Like many Protestants, we prayed extemporaneously – nothing memorized, or said in unison. Instead, someone would take a few minutes to help us gather our scattered thoughts from our daily lives, and lift words of gratitude – for the meal, for being together, for our home. Sometimes, we would sing – a verse from a hymn, or a sung table blessing. We knew some fun table graces from our Methodist summer camp, too.
Later in life, when my two daughters were still young, it seemed like all I could do to get healthy food in front of them three times a day. The idea of forcing my tired brain cells to come up with a new, coherent prayer for each meal felt like an extra burden, rather than a joy. I didn’t feel I could adequately articulate the immense gratitude I felt, every day, that we had enough, that my children were not going hungry, that their food was safe, and nutritious.
That was when, for the first time, we started using a memorized table grace at each meal. We don’t use the patriarchal term ‘Lord’ in our home, so I modified a prayer I’d heard years ago; together, we said, Come, dear Jesus, be our guest; let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
Although I liked this prayer, I still felt kind of guilty – like I’d somehow ‘cheated’ my kids of a ‘real grace’ at the table. But what happened next was kind of fascinating. It was such a relief not to have to come up with our own words every meal, that we started using that prayer more and more often. Then, it started to feel ‘wrong’ if we didn’t say it, so we ended every table grace with that prayer, giving each extemporaneous prayer a communal ending, like a benediction. We started calling it our ‘family prayer,’ and unbeknownst to me, it became precious to my daughters. This was no rote, rubber stamped ritual for them at all. It was, as John Wesley would say, a means of grace. Over the years, I learned that they each had thought a lot about the words, what it means to have Jesus as our guest at every meal; that each meal is a gift; and that our lives should carry that blessing forward and bless the gifts that we experience through each meal.
Be our guest.
It reminds me of a hymn verse we often sing as our table grace during Advent:
People, look East! The time is near of the crowning of the year!
Make your house fair as you are able: trim the hearth and set the table!
People, look East, and sing today: Love, the Guest, is on the way!
In Advent, and all year long, in our rituals of shopping and harvesting, prepping and cooking, of setting a table, we prepare for Love, the Guest. For us to live, we must eat; and for us to eat, something else must die, must be sacrificed. So every single meal involves sacrifice, communion, and abundant life: a resurrection feast that nourishes our bodies and souls.
Sometimes, we limit the idea of Eucharist to a narrow moment: a small piece of bread, or sip of juice, in a specific time and place. But biblically, the concept of the Eucharist occurs repeatedly, in the House Church feasts described in Paul’s epistles, in the Seder feast narratives of the Last Supper, and, of course, in the six different accounts of the sharing of the loaves and fishes – and all of these narratives are not meant to limit, but rather to express Abundance. Divinity is present, no matter how scarce things may seem. Divine Love takes moments that look scary, or dead, or empty, and transforms them into courage, hope, and abundant life. Those tokens we partake of at our church altars were always meant to remind us, help us experience, a feast.
What if every single meal is a resurrection feast? What if, each time we eat, we experience the incarnate Divine, overflowing through all Creation, every creature, every plant, every single thing on our plates? What if Jesus is not just our guest in Spirit, but alive within each of us sitting around the table, and as the body of Christ, present within the creatures – plants and animals – whose lives are sacrificed, each day, that we may live?
This is my body, broken for you.
Jesus’ words testify to the presence of the Divine whenever we break bread together. We never eat alone. Christ is present inside us, beside us, and in the food itself: the glorious, kindred, beautiful, sacred creatures of our shared Creation. The Living, Resurrected Christ was already present in the Eucharistic meal even before the Last Supper. The eternal, liberating, life-giving Divine flows through the Universe from alpha to omega. We all, always live in a cruciform, resurrected Creation, overflowing with the abundant power and beauty of sacrificial love.
What would change for us if we truly started to see Jesus in each and every creature who comes to our table? If each were an honored guest? If we honored the sacrifice, the communion, and the abundance? What if, when we pause to bless, we consider the waters that offer each creature a drink; the soils, giving of themselves to nourish the grains and plants. The hands that sowed and harvested, that sacrificed life. That carried, sorted, shipped, sold, prepared, each step of the way. Jesus’ hands. The animals, from land, sea, and sky, who are now our guests at table – our honored Jesus guest.
My daughters are both adults now. And every time they sit down to eat, I see them pause and bow their heads. In gratitude, of course; and also in welcome, in honor, of the beautiful sacrifice of abundant life – the resurrection feast – of each meal, big or small. I invite us all, together, truly to embrace the Living Christ, unafraid of the radical abundance of the Divine. Is our Jesus big enough? Is our Eucharistic table wide enough to find Holy Communion for all? As we extend the Table of Love, my prayer is for its healing grace to fill us and help us let go of our fear. I pray we all may find, in the presence of Christ within and among us, basket after basket overflowing with more than enough to share with all our kindred, Earthly family.