Published December 3, 2013
Last week before Thanksgiving I saw a cartoon in the local newspaper that showed a truckload of mashed potatoes crashing into a frozen turkey factory. One fireman arriving on the scene shouts to another, "Quick! Someone say grace!"
But what struck me, even more than the fact that this religious reference actually appeared in the comics in a positive context, was the use of that term, "saying grace." Is that expression used as commonly as it used to be? Some may say, "Please offer the blessing." Or others might simply say, "Would you pray for the food?"
Apparently, the "grace" part of the expression originated in the 12th century from old French gracier, from grace. One of a variety of meanings for the word was to "thank." The Latin root was gratia. We see it today in the common Spanish word for "thanks," gracias.
So, "saying grace" is simply "saying thanks." And, of course, we are saying thanks to God for His many blessings on our lives, including the food he has provided for us to eat. Indeed, such prayers are acknowledgments that the food is truly provided by God as one of His many blessings. And we are asking the Lord to bless the food to our bodies for good health and strength.
Praying for meals shouldn't be taken lightly. It has plenty of Biblical precedent. Paul, on a storm-tossed sea with the ship's crew and passengers fearing for their lives, took time to say grace for the food they had: "And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat" (Acts 27:35).
The Lord, Himself, provided the example. Before feeding the multitude, as recounted in John 6, the Lord took time to be thankful: "And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted" (John 6:11). The matter-of-fact way John reports this would seem to indicate the practice of giving thanks in such a way was unexceptional quite common.
Of course, the idea wasn't new with the New Testament. It goes back to a Jewish traditional prayer called the "birkat hamazon," based on Deut. 8:10: "When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you." In fact, even today, Christians in many cultures "say grace" after, not before, meals. Some actually do it before and after which really wouldn't be a bad idea.
But, to get back to my original thought, I like the word "grace" in this context. Grace is, by its most common definition, God's unmerited favor. And He certainly has shown His favor by providing for our needs, especially the nutritious food for which we should never fail to "say grace."
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