In the month ahead, many of us will gather around tables for meals with loved ones, friends and family. Some of us will travel long distances or receive guests from afar, sitting down together after time spent apart to eat, share stories, and experience each other’s company. It is the season of Thanksgiving, the time of year we return to God gratitude for an abundant harvest, a table filled with enough, and lives nourished from God’s hand.
As is common for many Christians who gather at table throughout the week and especially at Thanksgiving, we practice “saying grace.” I think of growing up, listening to my grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, hosting the meal and gathering our family together with a word of prayer in response to God’s bountiful providence. We say “grace”, putting the words of thankfulness upon our lips. We speak the “grace” aloud, acknowledging before others the ways we have personally and communally been impacted by God’s providing love.
And yet, I think there is much more for us to experience in this practice than we typically allow. Sometimes, the saying of “grace” can be a perfunctory act — “that’s just what you do.” The hosting task, the obligation, the liturgical movement that inaugurates the meal. I wonder if we might hear an invitation this year to experience “grace” as something beyond (and including) words. Could “grace” be an offering, something both given and received, as we gather at the table? Could we find a capacity around our tables this November (and beyond) to know “grace” in our bones and in the ways we receive others in love?
What might this look like? Well, to begin, I recognize my own need to give grace in the form of acceptance, both to others and to myself. Grace given to the friend at the table who said the harsh word to me last week. Grace acknowledged for the sibling we wish hadn’t actually shown up to the meal. Grace for ourselves, for our weaknesses, for our own shortcomings, for the moments when we’ve squandered the good.
Grace, in our gatherings around tables and our gatherings as a church community, rooted in Christ, mustn’t become perfunctory. Our grace must be bold. I write this note in the closing days of October, the month when the church remembers the historic boldness of Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, the same man from whom our reformed tradition gratefully received the strong reminder that it is by “grace” we are saved. We are a people of grace. We must become a people of grace. Wholeheartedly.
I wonder, how are you invited to know grace more deeply as you say it at your table and practice it through your days? Who around you needs to be shown grace — an unconditional welcome, a forgiveness, a reconciliation? What inside of you needs to be offered grace — my foolish words, my quick judgements, my self-deprecating and self-diminishing neglect?
What is offered here, to each of us today, is that Christ Jesus welcomes us in grace. It is in Christ we find the true meaning of saying grace — “go now and sin no more.” In Christ, we are released, set free, opened up to then go and fully release, free, and open up our world. May we receive this grace more wholly, now and always.
Grace and peace,