Our common table prayers

We say these prayers often, but have we considered what they mean?

"Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed."

Many Lutheran Christians pray these words at mealtimes. Families may say them together, and individuals may pray them silently when they eat alone. Before congregational meals we are often invited to ask the blessing and give thanks in the words of “the common table prayers.”

Asking a blessing

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,” we pray. A plaque in some Christian homes announces, “Christ is the head of this house.” It includes a line calling him “the unseen guest at every meal.” When they ask the Lord to be their guest, Christians confess that they believe his promise, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus our Savior, true God and true man, is always present among us.

“Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them,” the Lord also promised (Matthew 18:20). To come together in the name of Jesus means to gather around his Word. When we ask him to be our guest, we affirm that we are ready and willing to hear him. For many Christian families, couples, and singles, a mealtime is the best opportunity for family or personal devotions. In our table prayer we repeat the invitation the Emmaus disciples gave their risen Lord. After spending hours in the Scriptures with Jesus, their hearts burned within them and they wanted to hear more. “Stay with us,” they prayed (Luke 24:29). In other words, “Be our guest.”

Still another promise of Jesus comes to mind. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). The risen, glorified Jesus, our ever-present guest, is the constant host of a heavenly banquet. On the menu he offers forgiveness for every sin, limitless love for every sinner. And, as an earthly host might say, “Keep your forks. Dessert is coming.” When our Lord returns to claim the church as his bride, he promises a joyful, eternal wedding feast in the Father’s house.

The rest of this prayer brings us back to our earthly tables again: “And let these gifts to us be blessed.” What is it that enables our minds and bodies to do their work? Of course, we need the food and drink God gives to fuel brains, muscles, and every organ. Too easily we forget that bread alone cannot keep us alive.

Satan tempted a hungry Jesus to trust in food. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “tell these stones to become bread” (Matthew 4:3). The enemy wanted God’s Son to depend on food for his human body.