Come, Lord Jesus

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.

My family has a complicated relationship with liturgy.

In the Baptist churches of my childhood, no one ever prayed the same prayer twice. The Lord’s Prayer, handed down to us by Jesus, was dutifully memorized but rarely prayed by generations of Sunday School children. At bedtime with my parents when we were young, and later at youth group meetings on Wednesday nights, my sister and I were encouraged to make up our own prayers, to speak to God as directly and casually as to a friend.

We used many of the same phrases over and over, of course: Thank you, God, for this day. Please bless our family. Please heal ______ (inserting the name of whichever family member or friend was sick or hurting). But our parents and teachers urged us to put those phrases together in new and creative ways.

Over time, I picked up the notion that it was lazy, almost cheating, to pray the same prayer day in and day out. God gave us brains: weren’t we supposed to use them to create new and unique prayers? Wouldn’t God, like our friends, grow bored with us if we said the same things to Him over and over again?

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.

Every summer, we packed up the car and backed out of the driveway before dawn, making the 700-mile drive to a hilly farm in southwest Missouri. My dad’s parents lived in the rambling farmhouse where they had raised their three boys, and we always spent several days with them before heading on to visit my mother’s parents in Ohio. My grandparents were faithful members of a small Lutheran church, and if we were there on a Sunday, we dressed up and went to church with them.

Full of dark wood pews that held unfamiliar hymnbooks in their racks, Mimi and Papaw’s church seemed quiet and old, like most of its members. The preacher droned, the chant-like songs felt strange in my mouth, and my sister and I couldn’t help but fidget through the services. My father loved his parents, and he maintained a deep respect for the church he had grown up in, but it was no secret that he preferred the more free and joyful style of my mother’s Baptist heritage, which he adopted as his own after they married.

Those scattered visits to First Lutheran Church over the years were not sufficient for me to memorize the Apostles’ Creed or any of the typical Sunday prayers. Even the occasional Christmas Eve service there left me longing to get back to Mimi and Papaw’s farm, where Santa Claus had always come to fill the stockings by the time we returned from church. (Despite the fact that Papaw was always the last one out the door on those nights, I never figured out how he managed to set out all the gifts so quickly.) But I memorized one prayer from those times in Missouri: the one we repeated, standing in a circle in the kitchen, before every meal.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.

Sometimes my grandfather asked Dad to pray, and on those occasions the prayers were a bit longer and definitely more varied. In turn, Dad would sometimes call on my mother or one of us girls. Since none of us like praying for an audience, we would stumble through a prayer as quickly as we could. But at all other times — and, I’m sure, during the rest of the year when we weren’t there — Mimi and Papaw would join hands, bow their heads and repeat that simple prayer.

I had so little concept of liturgy then that I always assumed Mimi and Papaw had come up with that prayer themselves. (How else would they have known what to say and when to say it?) The church of my childhood was a place of many words — sermons, Bible verses, hymns, praise songs, devotional talks — but not many of them were repeated verbatim from week to week.

In some ways, this varied diet of words has enriched my faith: I have a wide range of songs and prayers to choose from when I plan a church service with my husband or bow my head to pray before dinner. As a college student studying abroad in Oxford, England, I worshiped at a big Anglican church with people from a dozen or more nations, and gained a new understanding of the dazzling variety of God’s people and of the words they use to worship Him.

But like many young adults who grew up in evangelical churches, or in churches reluctant to claim any creed or denomination, I have begun to crave a bit of liturgy now and then.

I have now been a part of three churches — that Anglican church in Oxford and two Churches of Christ stateside — whose members recite The Lord’s Prayer in unison as a part of their weekly services. My current church even follows the liturgical calendar, drawing its worship and sermon inspiration from the lectionary schedule and The Book of Common Prayer. Every year, we observe Advent and Lent, drawing together as a congregation in communal observance of the ancient church seasons we long ignored.

I now own a red covered Book of Common Prayer, which I pull out from time to time as my husband and I plan worship, looking for prayers and readings to complement our solidly evangelical hymnal and smaller book full of newer worship songs. I don’t know many of the prayers in there by heart. But it struck me, several months ago, as I fumbled for a prayer at the dinner table, that I did know one prayer by heart: the one I’d heard all those years ago as a child.

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed. Amen.

By this time, I had realized that prayer probably did not originate with my grandparents, but now I was curious about where it had come from. A bit of Internet research yielded a few tidbits: the prayer comes from an ancient Lutheran prayer book, handed down and translated from the German, with several variations. It has been in use, in some form, for more than 250 years, before my German ancestors made the journey across the Atlantic to settle in Mississippi, Kansas, and later that small corner of southwest Missouri.

I use it sometimes now, when it’s my turn to bless our food before dinner and I am tired or worried or simply can’t think of anything to say. The familiar rhythm of the words comforts me, carrying with it echoes of the many people who have prayed it before me, and those who still pray it around their tables. It brings me back to those summer days at Mimi and Papaw’s, standing barefoot on the kitchen tile, hand-in-hand with the people I loved the most. Now, as I face my husband across our own dinner table, it sums up everything I want to say:

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.


Photo by Katie Noah Gibson 

Katie Noah Gibson is a writer, editor, knitter, and compulsive tea-drinker based in Boston. Born in Texas, she’s a lifelong Anglophile but loves to travel just about anywhere. She blogs at Cakes, Tea and Dreams and tweets regularly.

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