One day, I was chastised, in good humor, by a classmate in the Seminary cafeteria, that my silent, private mealtime prayer was too short. And while I can hardly claim the world speed record on praying ‘Come Lord Jesus’, I would not doubt that there is something to be said about not only the length, but also the thought process that goes into meal time prayers.
This occurred to me yesterday while teaching the Lord’s Prayer in confirmation class that Luther would not be accused of having to short, or too quick, of a mealtime prayer today. For in his Small Catechism, Luther states that the Head of the Family should lead the family in a Bible verse, the Lord’s Prayer, and then a table prayer both for asking a blessing prior to the meal and in returning thanks following the meal.
Now one must admire Luther in two respects: the first is that while hungry mouths are surrounding a table full of food, he stops and has everyone take up to five minutes for a prayer; and then again at the end of the meal, when many are eager to push away for play or work, there is again another five minutes for prayer.
What sticks out in these prayers is the recognition that God is the provider of the meal. And this recognition comes through in God being thanked twice: first for the food that is about to be received, and then second for the food that has just been received.
Another thing that sticks out is the praying of the Lord’s Prayer twice. While it is not often thought of as a mealtime prayer, Luther recognizes that there is much in this prayer that applies to the mealtime. The Fourth Petition clearly references daily bread, but the rest of the prayer references much of what goes into providing that daily bread: including peace and protection from enemies, and the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ.
Finally, what comes through in Luther’s formulas for mealtime prayer is the nucleus of the family. There is a clear indication in both the asking for the blessing and the returning of thanks that the meal, like the faith, is a shared event. The gathering together and asking the blessing clearly shows that the meal is enjoyed together by everyone, not at different times and not in different places, but the family as a whole gathers together. And the returning of thanks implies the same tenets: the family has gathered together to enjoy the meal, and no one leaves to go play or work until all are finished eating.
The meal is a family event: everyone gathered together enjoys the meal from the beginning of the blessing until the returning of thanks.
The mealtime prayer is not something to be rushed through or skipped over; for it is pointing us to the great meal that we share in the faith of the Lord’s Supper. And as believers, we would never think of rushing through that meal, so why are we so eager to rush through the family meal shared in our homes?
Luther’s suggestion for prayer may seem out of date by modern standards, but it may be wise to bring back. The length of one’s mealtime prayer is no indication of their faith, but if one is rushing through the prayer as a mere formality that must be done before eating in order that they might get to the things they are really interested in, is one really giving thanks for the gifts that they have received?