My grandmother always says the same grace before meals. She knows others, I’m sure, but she has only ever said one: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and grant that all these gifts be blessed. This is Grandmom’s grace, said at every family gathering and on every major holiday, said in the same sweet, melodious voice each time, even if five minutes before this 85-year-old, 5-foot-nothing, bold, beautiful, feisty Italian woman was standing in the kitchen pointing a wooden spoon and railing against Congress or anyone who has ever or will ever play for the New York Mets. But come grace-time, and she’s all softness and light: Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and grant that all these gifts be blessed.
Now as a child, I thought that this grace was a little, well, lame. This is because I was a complete grace snob. In my immediate family, we quoted scripture before mealtime. We had standard grace quotes, like “He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love, or, if you were hungry: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And if you felt like showing off: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” These verses didn’t always relate directly to mealtime, per se, but they were beautiful, and in their King James English, they sounded awfully official and important. As a child, I was far more impressed with the seriousness of these quotes than with the sing-songy-ness of Grandmom’s grace. Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and grant that all these gifts be blessed, always seemed childish compared to, you know, THE BIBLE.
What I did not realize in my childish snobbery is that the first part of my grandmother’s prayer actually is THE BIBLE. And not only is it from THE BIBLE, it is given privilege of place by being the last prayer in the entire canon of scripture. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.” Here ends the Bible. Come, Lord Jesus is one of the oldest prayers in Christendom, found not only in Revelation but in one of Paul’s letters and in the first liturgy of the Church. Come, Lord Jesus is a prayer that has been offered over and over by millions of Christians in thousands of places and times. It is the most ancient, the most scriptural, the most important of prayers.
What I also did not recognize as a child sitting at my grandmother’s dinner table was that it is also a hugely ambitious prayer, a prayer of epic proportions. I never stopped to think what we really asking. Come, Lord Jesus. What if Jesus had actually taken us up on our offer? What if he really had come? Well, he certainly would have come in and sat right down to eat, probably in that chair – you know, the extra chair from the study, the low one that makes the dinner table hit you right around here. Jesus would have sat in that lowest chair, probably at the spot in the middle of the table where the crack makes your plate wobble back and forth. Or, more likely, he would have sat at the kiddies table, with his knees tucked up around his chin, just suffering the little children all over the place. He would have cleared the table, stayed in the kitchen drying dishes, recycled the empty cans, driven the leftovers over to the homeless shelter. He would have asked provocative questions about forgiveness, invited unusual people to the table, told daring stories about a kindhearted Mets fan caring for a man who had been beaten up along the road to Citizens Bank Park. He would have challenged us by his words and his actions to truly be his disciples in our words and our actions. He would have come, our Lord Jesus, so that our dinner, and our lives, would never have been the same.
Come, Lord Jesus is a serious, powerful prayer. It is a bold ask. Because Jesus can come in only one way – the same way he has always come, with the same purpose he has always had. Which means that when we pray this prayer, Come, Lord Jesus, we are really asking for Jesus to come and turn our world upside down. For he came, and so he will always come, to exalt the humble and meek and to fill the hungry with good things. He comes as the master to act as the servant; he comes as the highest to sit with the lowest. He comes as the purest of heart, without sin, to walk among brokenhearted sinners. He comes to manifest the glory of God in the shame of the cross. He comes with great power to give it away for great love. He comes to shake up the world, to shake us into our right minds, to show us again and again how God rejects the priorities of this world for the grace of his heavenly kingdom.
Now all of that shaking up can be supremely uncomfortable. That’s why this prayer takes so much courage, because it means that we are inviting Jesus to change things, to change us. And that means admitting that we need that change, because sometimes you and I find it easier to adopt the priorities of this world than to fight them. We get sucked in to believing unhelpful, unholy untruths – that our worth is somehow tied to our wallets or our waistlines, that we are loved because we are powerful or perfect, that our sin is justified because of need or expediency, that faster is better, that busier is better. We get sucked into believing that when Christ said to love our enemies he surely didn’t mean dead terrorists, or kidnappers, and that when he said to give away two robes instead of one he surely didn’t mean actual clothes, or at least not our nice ones, and that when he said to serve the poor he must have meant only those who are properly grateful, or clean, or pleasant. In the Church, too, we are often tempted by these worldly priorities, tempted to look to our bottom line as the Alpha and the Omega, or to measure our success only in terms of how many people are sitting in the pews instead of how many hearts – in and out of the pews – are transformed by the Gospel.
Opening ourselves up to admitting these failings and owning our own sin, can be a vulnerable, scary business. True transformation always is. This is why this prayer has always been a prayer of the whole Church, a prayer that we offer together, as one body with Christ in us and us in Christ. Together we can have the courage to lift up our hearts and to cry out Come, Lord Jesus! Come down and shake us up. Come down right in the middle of the world’s lies and speak truth. Come down right in the center of our weakness and comfort – be strong with – us. Come down into our selfishness or apathy to help us love as we should, to help us follow you as we should, to help us wash our robes in whatever sacrifice is required to follow in the path of discipleship. Come, Lord Jesus. This is the boldest and bravest of asks, a serious, important, beautiful prayer.
And it is a prayer that is a gift. Because here is the thing: Christ is coming. He has promised that he is coming and that right soon. He is coming in a thousand little ways, this day and at the last day, to bring justice to places where the strong lord it over the weak, to bring mercy to the sick or the sin-sick souls, to bring peace and love where there is only violence and hardness of heart. Ready or not, here he comes. And Christ just wants us to be ready. So he offers us this prayer. I am the Alpha and the Omega, he says, I am the bright morning star, and I am coming. So get ready, and let everyone who hears say, “Come.” You, say Come! Let everyone who hears the great good news boldly say come. Let the Church and the city say, come. Let the faithful say come. Let the doubters say come. Let the joyful say come. Let the addicted say come. Let the children say come. Let the heartbroken say come. Let the survivors say come. Let the oppressed say come. Let the frustrated say come. Let the grandmothers and the mothers the grandfathers and the fathers say come. Let the angry, the exhausted, the jubilant, the lost, the found, the poor, the hungry say come. Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and grant that all these gifts be blessed. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
12 May 2013
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia