by Dr. David W. Loy
The Common Table Prayer is familiar and quaint, but what does it really mean?
We Lutherans have a prayer we call the Common Table Prayer. It is a nice little prayer. We say it over supper at home, before potlucks at church and at Lutheran gatherings of many kinds. In fact, we’ve grown so used to it that it sometimes seems cozy and quaint, just another decoration in the house. We say it to give thanks for our food, little realizing what a punch this little prayer packs.
Come, Lord Jesus. When we pray these words before our meals, we join our voices with that of the apostle John, who prayed those same three words near the end of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). Jesus will come again on the Last Day. We long and pray for that day when He will appear again in the flesh. We will see Him face-to-face, and He will take us to spend eternity with Him and the Father and the Holy Spirit.
“Come, Lord Jesus,” we pray. That is not simply an invitation for Jesus to show up at the meal we happen to be eating. Indeed, it casts the meal we happen to be eating in the light of eternity. “Come, Lord Jesus” is the Church’s cry for our Lord Jesus to come to us in His grace, mercy and love. It is the Church’s cry for our Lord Jesus to come and make right our human nature, so infected by sin. It is the Church’s cry for our Lord Jesus to come and usher us into the marriage feast of the Lamb, which will have no end (Rev. 19:9). “Come, Lord Jesus,” we pray, because without Him, our lives, our futures and the food we eat are all insecure and finally meaningless.
Be our guest. We put ourselves in good company by asking Jesus to be our guest. When Jesus invited Himself into Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus welcomed Him, so that the people said, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner” (Luke 19:7). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus begged Jesus, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (Luke 24:29). When we invite Jesus to be our guest, it is simply the response of faith.
We ask Him to be our guest because we know that He—with the Father and the Holy Spirit—has provided us with food and drink and everything else we need to support this body and life. We ask Him to be our guest because we want Him to come and say about us what He said about Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). We ask Him to be our guest because we want to remember all He has done for us. It is no different from praying, “Give us this day our daily bread,” which is to pray that we would receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. “Be our guest,” we ask our Lord Jesus, because the Holy Spirit has taught us that Jesus brings salvation to the house that receives Him in faith.
Let Thy gifts to us be blessed. Which gifts do we want our Lord to bless? They are the gifts on our table—a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes, the plate of spaghetti, the meager helping of beans. Whether the fare is rich or poor, plentiful or meager, it is a gift from God, and we want our Savior to bless it. As it says in Hebrews, “Land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God” (Heb. 6:7).
Whatever our Lord blesses achieves the purpose for which He gave it. When our Lord blesses the food on our tables, it does its job. It feeds and nourishes our bodies that we may worship God and serve our neighbors.
That happens whenever Jesus blesses bread in the New Testament. Matthew describes how a large crowd followed Jesus. Evening came, and the people were hungry, and there was no town large enough to feed them all, but a boy had five loaves of bread and two fish. So Jesus “ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied” (Matt. 14:19–20). Our Lord blessed the bread, and it fed them all, even though there was so little. Our Lord blesses the gifts He has placed on our table, and those gifts feed us. Having received our Lord’s gift of food, we return to the activities of life nourished and prepared to serve those around us.
“Come, Lord Jesus,” we cry with the Church, longing for our Lord to return in glory and set us and this entire sinful world right. “Be our guest,” we ask Him, knowing that the house that receives Jesus in faith receives His salvation. “Let Thy gifts to us be blessed,” we pray, trusting that the food on our tables will be sufficient to nourish us to do the work the Lord has given us in this world. It is such a simple prayer, and yet it gives voice to so many longings that our faith produces in us. We long for Jesus to come again, we long for the salvation He brings, and we long to be nourished to do the work He gives us. What better way to end the prayer than with that final, biblical word: Amen.
About the Author: Dr. David W. Loy is pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, Mo., and will teach theology and philosophy at Concordia University Irvine this fall.
> See Luther’s Small Catechism for a table prayer as well as a prayer for returning thanks.
> “He testifies with His own Word that our prayer is heartily pleasing to Him” (LC III 19).