When I was a child, my parents taught me a little prayer that we called “grace.” Grace was something we always said right before we ate dinner. We sometimes said it before lunch, too, but not always. We said the same prayer before every meal during my childhood, and when my children were born, I taught them the same prayer. We said it over and over by rote. I don’t remember ever stopping to think what it really meant – it was just something we had to say before we ate. It went like this (read fast): “Come Lord Jesus be our guest let this food to us be blessed Amen.” Well, okay – that’s not really how it went – that’s how we said it. Let me slow it down a bit. “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” Of course, what we were really doing was giving thanks for the food that we were about to eat. We were also inviting Jesus to join us. Did you hear it? “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” We were also asking Jesus to bless our food. I guess that’s why it’s called grace – we give thanks for the gift of the food we have been given by the grace of God.
These past two weeks, Pastor Rosemary has shared stories of gratitude with you. First, you may recall, she talked about ten lepers who Jesus healed. Only one of them came back to tell Jesus “thank you.” Yet, Rosemary surmised that perhaps the others were so filled with joy at being healed that they were already celebrating with their families – and who can blame them? By the grace of God, they had been healed of one of the most devastating diseases of their time. If they were too excited to go back and say “thank you,” well, we shouldn’t find fault, should we? As Rosemary said – how can we stand in judgment when we ourselves are no less forgetful?
Just last week, Rosemary recalled the story of the woman who came in to see Jesus when he was a dinner guest at the house of Simon the Pharisee. I love how Rosemary describes her experience – this woman who just wanted to be close to Jesus, noticing that Simon had not even had the courtesy to have his servants wash the feet of his guest. Angry at such rudeness, she begins to cry mixed tears of anger and gratitude, because Jesus has given her a reason to live. Listening to Jesus tell a story of forgiveness and thankfulness, she cleans his feet with her tears and her hair. How many of us have stood for what is right to the extent that this woman did?
Now we come to the third part of this series on thankfulness. In today’s scripture, we look in at Jesus sitting at the table for a Passover meal – his last. He knows that it is to be his last meal – and yet did you hear what he said? He said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you!” Think about it – Jesus was excited to share his last meal with his friends. This is Luke’s version of the institution of the Eucharist – or Holy Communion, if you prefer. He must have caused the Apostles and others who were in the room to wonder what he meant when he said, “…I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Certainly, everything he had to say that night must have been a mystery to those who heard him. Those of us who come together in these latter days to remember his words “Do this in remembrance of me” think we have the answer to the mystery; we think we know exactly what he meant. After all, we have a view from the other side of the Resurrection. We know that He rose from the dead and walked in the garden with Mary. We know that he walked along the Road to Emmaus, teaching some of His disciples, who didn’t even recognize him. And we know that He ate with them and with the Apostles at another time after His resurrection.
We see the many times that Jesus broke bread with His followers after the resurrection as “Eucharistic moments,” that is, moments in which He reinforced the importance of remembering Him through the sharing of bread and wine. We feel that this is what He meant when he said he would not drink or eat until the kingdom of God came. For certainly with his death and resurrection Jesus was identified as the Christ. Certainly, each time we celebrate Communion together, we recognize the importance of His sacrifice and we remember Him as our Leader, the resurrected One who sent His representative the Holy Spirit to live among us.
There is something else in this scripture, though. It’s right there loud and clear and although I don’t recall ever discussing it in Sunday School, it seems quite important to me. “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”
Did you hear it? Jesus gave thanks for the bread and for the wine. Before He even instituted Communion, He said grace! I don’t know what He might have said as He gave thanks to God. What I do know is that when He gave us the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus also gave us a model of for thanksgiving. When my family sat at the dinner table and gave thanks by inviting Jesus to join us at the meal, when Bill and I say grace before we eat, whenever we gather around the table to give thanks before we share in our potluck meals, we are following His lead.
In the first part of this series, Rosemary showed us that our thankfulness is nothing as shallow as what she called a “self-improvement program.” In the Samaritan leper, Rosemary said, we find “the roots of Christian gratitude within a profound awareness of God’s grace.” In the second part of series, Rosemary pointed out that it isn’t enough to be indignant at the mistreatment of others. We must be willing to risk humiliation and embarrassment by stepping in to do what others have not – just like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Like that woman, we are kind to one another not just because we want to be good people, but because we are thankful for what God has given us. Out of our awareness of God’s grace, we cannot help but overflow with gratitude. We cannot help but want to give God thanks for what God has given us.
So, as a company of seekers and believers, let us pray together: “Come, Lord Jesus; be our guest. Let this food – food for our bellies and food for our souls – yes, let this food to us be blessed. Amen.”