A table blessing

Last Saturday Caroline and I went up to a London club for a dinner put on by my old college – Jesus College, Cambridge. It was a super evening – the surroundings were sumptuous, the food and drink were superb, and the company was delightful. Yes, it is great to be part of a group of people where nobody has to seek to prove themselves and so nobody tries to play any games of ‘one-upmanship’ – it was back to my undergraduate days where we accepted one another as a group of equals.

Somewhat unexpectedly Caroline and I found ourselves being placed on the top table. For one instant I thought that it was because  I was going to be asked to say grace, but then I realised that it was probably because I am now one of the older members of the college (in a Cambridge college, once a member, always a member – even if you fail your degree!). Instead, one of the younger people was asked to say the Latin grace with which we used to begin every evening meal in college hall:

Oculi omnium in te aspiciunt et in te sperant, Deus. Tu das illis escam tempore opportuno. Aperis tu manus, et imples omne animal benedictione tua. Benedic nobis, Domine, et omnibus tuis donis, quae ex larga liberalitate tua sumpturi sumus, per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Deus est caritas. Qui manet in caritate manet in Deo et Deus in illo. Sit Deus in nobis, et nos maneamus in illo.

That is to say:

“The eyes of all look towards you and trust in you, O God. You give them food in due season. You open your hands and fill every living thing with your blessing. Bless us, O Lord, and all your gifts, which through your great generosity we are about to receive, through Jesus Christ our Lord. God is love. He who abides in love abides in God and God in him. May God be in us and may we abide in him.”

I think it is lovely grace. As is the custom with many Cambridge colleges, it begins with a quotation from Psalm 145.15-16. As I was reflecting on these verses, I came across a comment by the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann:

The one with looking eyes and open hands and yearning desire does nothing, produces nothing, earns nothing, manipulates nothing, possesses nothing – only gladly, trustingly receives

Although in the first place the reference is to physical food, as Christians we may surely also read in a reference to the bread of life, In the words of another Old Testament scholar, Artur Weiser: “God also satisfies all spiritual hunger with his favour and with grateful joy in the divine Giver”.

These words of the Psalmist, however, are not just for use in Cambridge colleges – down through the centuries they have been a table blessing in many other contexts. Indeed, in preparing for this blog, I came across an article in which the author suggested that this was a table blessing which every Christian parent should teach their children. Alas, that idea ever occurred to me when our children were young. If I were starting life again, I think I would do just that

I find it significant that at Jesus College the grace goes on not just with a prayer for God’s blessing on those who eat, but also with what I take to be a reminder that God’s ultimate blessing is to be found in him. Only in that way do we discover true ‘satisfaction’ in life. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in the Upper Room: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15.9). What a great way to end a grace – with God!

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