Saying Grace

Normally when I say grace before a meal at home, I am short and to the point: “Thank you Lord for this good food. Amen!”. If we have guests round for a meal, then the grace may be a little longer, but not much – “Thank you Lord for good friends and for good food, Amen!”. But there are special occasions when it may be right for grace to be longer.

Recently I was again asked to say grace at a coroners’ dinner (see my earlier post), and for that occasion I wrote a special prayer in which I began by thanking God for all his good gifts, then narrowed down to thank him for the work in which coroners are involved, before then focussing on the meal itself:-

For the gift of life we thank you
For the experience of love and friendship
For the delight of music and words
For the stimulus of learning and conversation
Generous God, we thank you

For the work we have in common we thank you
For the opportunity to serve others
For the responsibility to see that justice is done
For the personal challenge to grow and develop
Generous God, we thank you

For the evening before us, we thank you too
For the camaraderie of fellow professionals
For the exchange of ideas and experience
And not least for the provision of good food and fine wine
Generous God, we thank you

Needless to say, I am conscious that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount had some words to say about long-winded prayers:

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6.6).

Jewish prayers by and large were and to the point. The standard Jewish blessing for a meal took the following form: “Blessed are you God, our Lord, King of the World, who brings forth bread from the ground, and who creates fruit from the vine”. It may well have been a prayer along that line which Jesus used at the Feeding of the 5000, when “he looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves” (Mark 6.40). Incidentally, do note that Jesus would not have ‘blessed’ the food – like any good Jews, he would have blessed God! Grace for a Jew was always a prayer of thanksgiving.

In the context of saying grace, however, do notice too that when Jesus attacked verbosity, he did not have in mind prayers of thanksgiving, but rather prayers of petition. Gentiles tended to think that they could bludgeon God into acquiescence through their many prayers – indeed, there was a Latin tag, ‘fatigare deos’ which referred to the custom of making the gods weary until at last they gave in. But when it comes to presenting our requests to our heavenly Father we do not have to ‘prattle’ away (literally, we do not have to ‘babble and speak many words’), for ‘your Father knows what you need’ (Matt 6.8).

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