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Saying Grace: A Simple Way to Give Thanks And a Strong Witness


Saying Grace: A Simple Way to Give Thanks, Ask Blessing, and make a public testimony that you love Jesus and honor Him in your life.


Our last blog on grace talked about “undeserved favor,” the basis of Christian salvation.   


   In “saying grace” the word means “thank you,” as in the Spanish word “gracias.”  We all know what saying grace is.  In America, Norman Rockwell’ depicted the scene in a 1951 painting Saying Grace for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.


In 1951 my family was saying grace around our dining room table in Elizabeth, NJ.  We were also saying grace in school, not just a few Christians, but everyone!  Where did this practice come from, and why do we see it so seldom today?


It comes from Jesus.  The Bible records Him “giving thanks” seven times, notably before the miracle of feeding the five thousand and distributing the bread at the last supper.  This giving of thanks was a vehicle of grace and power, multiplying the five loaves and two fishes into food sufficient for five thousand men and twelve baskets of leftovers.  He gave thanks at the last supper for the cup representing His blood that was shed for the remission of our sins.  (Matthew 26:28)


These were public instances of giving thanks, but Luke gives a powerful story of Jesus’ two disciples who met Him on the Road to Emmaus just after His Resurrection:


And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. 
But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. 
And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 
And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. Luke 24:29-31

As Jesus was revealed to them then in the breaking of bread, i.e., the sharing of a meal anointed by grace, so He is today when we invite Him to be present.


St. Paul made this a practice as we see in Acts 27:35 and it became a widespread practice over the centuries.  https://www.gotquestions.org/saying-grace.html


The grace we said around the Kalis family table in the 1950’s was composed by John Cennick in the 1700’s.  He was a friend of Wesley’s, but Luther, Calvin, and others practiced saying grace, most before the meal and others after denoting the one before the meal a blessing.


The one we prayed, or more often sang was:


We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food;

But more because of Jesus' blood;

Let manna to our souls be given,

The bread of life sent down from heaven.


I sang this glibly for years, but the theology took and the value of Jesus’ blood began to dawn on me.  The reason for that dawning was the Holy Ghost through whom that manna from heaven was delivered.


This connection of bread with Jesus as the Bread of Life is crystal clear here reflective clearly of Jesus’ teaching in John 6:51:


I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.


Cennick composed another hymn for saying grace:


Be present at our table, Lord.

Be here and everywhere adored.

Thy creatures bless and grant that we

may feast in paradise with Thee. 

 

This is more commonly used and has a different focus and theology.  The word Lord is used again but its linkage to Jesus is not.  This movement away from thanks for His blood and its role in our salvation to a request for His presence and blessing ends with a request that we may “feast in paradise with Thee.”

 

These Cennick prayers have been widely used for hundreds of years and brought grace and blessing and the presence of Jesus.

 

But Jesus' name and presence are conspicuously and purposely absent from other prayers used for saying grace. We see this clearly in transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson:  For each new morning with its light, for rest and shelter of the night, for health and food, for love and friends, for everything Thy goodness sends. –


By the time I got to elementary school (1951) this was recited over our milk and cookies:  God is great, and God is good, let us thank Him for our food; By His blessings we are fed, Give us Lord, our daily bread. Amen. –Author Unknown, God Is Great


The next decade, the United States Supreme Court banned this and all prayer from public schools.  Some attempts were made to encourage praying before meals were made by Catholics, but these too had a different focus.:


Father of mercy, we praise you and give you glory for the wonderful gifts you have given us: for life and health, for faith and love, and for this meal we have shared together. Father, we thank you through Christ our Lord. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops


Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.Mother Teresa, Make Us Worthy, Lord

 

What a blessing saying grace has been.  I think its fading is sad but to be expected as Jesus is left out and the great salvation His blood has brought obscured. 


We still say grace in my family, I use still the old Cennick prayer, and my children less formal thanksgiving.  Every thanksgiving brings grace in a measure, for God is good and loves to pour out His grace to everyone.


Believers experience more grace as they ask and bring it to others.  But saying grace is a discipline that is easily lost.  God has helped me remember to regularly say grace when I am with others, but I have found it slip when I am alone.


The Holy Ghost is convicting me of this and encouraging me to remember to use this practice to pray for grace at every meal and every person at the table.  Lately, I have been saying grace whenever I join others for conversation, for a game, or for another social occasion.  Whether there is food or not, it is meet to give thanks for Jesus' blood and great salvation, available to all, so rich and free.


We thank Thee, Lord, for this our food;
But more because of Jesus' blood;
Let manna to our souls be given,
The bread of life sent down from heaven.

 

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