When I was a kid, my grandfather always said grace over the big meals.
He used that somber, “prayer tone” reserved for preachers and deacons. And he uttered some phrases I didn’t quite understand.
The last thing he always said, prior to the long pause before saying, “amen”( which was the trigger for me to start piling turkey and dressing onto my plate) was, “and us to thy service.”
It sounded like another one of those King James phrases nobody used anymore, but all the religious folk incorporated into speech. What did that mean? And us to thy service?
Well, what preceded it was another phrase I understood a little better: “bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies.”
That one was easy – help this food nourish our bodies. Make it do what it does. Help it turn all the proteins, fats and carbohydrates (and praying with all our might that maybe, dear heavenly father, you can do something good with all this refined sugar – he can’t, by the way…but I digress) into the amino acids, fatty acids and glucose that will circulate into our bloodstream, usher energy into our cells, rebuild our muscles, tendons and ligaments, so that we may go forward in good health, re-fueled for another day.
So, in that context, “and us to thy service,” must’ve meant that we would then take all of that re-built physical health and use it in the service of God.
Ah – got it, now.
So the blessing said over the meal was basically a three-part prayer. It started with thankfulness – thank you for the food. Then moved toward hopefulness – use it to nourish our bodies. But then, it ended in responsibility – we’ll use that nourishment to serve you.
We often think of thankfulness as a passive state of being. We tend to be thankful for things that could’ve very easily gone the other way; “I’m thankful for my life, or my health or my family or for the plentiful things I have.”
But as we’ve seen over the last two years, those things can be taken from us so quickly and so easily with almost no rhyme or reason.
Something about this situation has always bothered me a little. It’s like people who say they are “blessed and highly favored,” when good things happen to them. Does that mean that the people who have bad things happening to them aren’t blessed or highly favored?
Because that list would include the Apostle Paul (who was beheaded) and the Apostle Steven (who was stoned to death) and John the revelator (boiled in oil) …
Anyway…you get the point.
There has to be more to this thankfulness thing than just accepting good fortune and assuming God likes you that day. Because I cannot believe that any of us are more highly favored than the Apostle Peter, who Jesus actually hung out with and built his church on…but who was also later crucified…upside down.
Maybe the thankfulness should have more of an action piece attached to it.
Maybe the most important part of the dinner blessing is that last part that was always so confusing to me. Maybe the “us to thy service” part is the main part.
Over the past two years, we’ve all lost friends to the weird virus going around. I have personally lost several. Does that mean that their families aren’t blessed and highly favored? Does it mean they have less to be thankful for?
Of course not.
We have to take the food blessing in its entirety. Being thankful is only the first part, and the easiest part, of the whole thing.
Thankfulness comes with a flip side; with a responsibility attached.
It is wonderful to give thanks. That’s number one. But then you ask the thing you are thankful for to turn into fuel – be it physical fuel, emotional fuel or spiritual fuel. The things we have around us, that put us in a state of gratefulness, are there to propel us on toward something.
What might that be?
It is “thy service.”
We aren’t ingesting that food just so we can fall asleep on the couch watching football. The food is fueling us for something. It is there to help us function in the world and be strong. And with that strength comes a new responsibility to serve and help and guide and stand up and be bold.
When I look around and see the people who aren’t here this year, it gives me a melancholy thankfulness, but a new resolve. Yes, I’m thankful that my wife and children are alive and well and intact. A couple of us almost weren’t this year.
But with that thankfulness comes a new burst of energy to help more and share more and lead more and (at the risk of sounding corny) love more.
So, enjoy your holiday tradition. Eat till you are embarrassed at yourself. Laugh with your family. Cheer on your favorite teams. That’s what feasts and celebrations are all about.
But that’s just the first part of the prayer.
Using all of that to somehow serve God in a better and more effective way is the real part of the prayer and the actual end goal. However that manifests itself for you is as individual as a fingerprint. But thinking in terms of the active responsibility of Thanksgiving, rather than merely the passive gratefulness, will change your entire world.
And it will turn that ubiquitous series of words, said in that earnest tone, over the spread, right before you dig in…into something more meaningful and challenging…
And US to THY service.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
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