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To Be United Methodist: Why do we call it ‘grace?’

 

Kathy Noble
November-December 2016

Why is the prayer before meals often called "grace?"

The word grace, when applied to a prayer over food, means thanksgiving.

On the simplest level, saying grace means offering thanksgiving — grace comes from the Latin gratiarum actio, "act of thanks." To say grace before meals is, among other things, to remember that it was God, not one's own means, that provided the meal.

Saying grace or saying the blessing follows the examples of Jesus and the apostle Paul, both of whom said grace before meals (see Acts 27:35).

In Matthew's accounts of Jesus feeding thousands of people with only a small amount of food, before Jesus "broke the bread" (started the meal), he thanked God for it.

Apparently, giving thanks before a meal was Jesus' customary practice. In Luke 24:13-35, the account of the walk to Emmaus, the disciples at first do not recognize with whom they are traveling. When, at the table, Jesus "took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them" (v. 30), immediately, the disciples recognized the resurrected Christ. It was "when he broke the bread" (v. 35) and gave thanks that their eyes were opened.

Since we owe everything we have to God's grace, it is appropriate to thank God always (Ephesians 5:20). Meals provide a good time to pause and do just that.

The prayer by which we "say grace" may take different forms – and is a practice that crosses the boundaries between religions. A familiar prayer that is said or sung (to many different tunes) at gatherings of United Methodists is what we often call the "Wesleyan grace":

Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may feast in fellowship with Thee. Amen

Adapted by the Rev. Kathy Noble, Interpreter editor,  from gotquestions.org, newadvent.org and oprah.com.