Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.
These words may or may not be familiar to you. They come out of the new Roman Missal, and are said “quietly” by the Celebrant as he places the bread and wine on the Altar before they are consecrated. Intended to be prayed privately, it may be said out loud in the absence of music at the Offertory. While such prayers are not written into our Anglican Prayer Book, many Anglican priests, like myself, find ourselves “quietly” using them as well. The rest of the congregation only hears them at services that don’t have an Offertory Hymn, when we choose to pray them out loud. Many priests find these and other similar prayers to help infuse meaning into these acts which we perform so often. This particular prayer sums up a wonderful Biblical theology of food, work, and offering that is worth our reflection as we continue to digest our Thanksgiving experience.
The form of this prayer goes back to the Jewish Berakhah, a prayer of blessing or praise to God starting “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe…” For the observant Jew, the day is punctuated with such prayers of blessing. My personal favorite is the blessing for the bathroom.
Blessed is He who has formed man in wisdom and created in him many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them blocked, it would be impossible for a man to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.
But what of this blessing over this ever-so-special food, over bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Christ?
- We have received these gifts through God’s goodness. First, he has given us the earth from which this food has come. Second, through his goodness wheat and grapes have grown up from the earth by God’s blessing. We only need to look across this world at the current famine in Africa to remember that such growth is not to be taken for granted.
- Both the bread and the wine are also the work of human hands, and are being offered to him. In one sense, this is also from God. “It is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deut 8:18). Yet it is also from us… humans took that grain of wheat that grew from the earth, planted it, cultivated it, harvested it, threshed it, milled it, formed dough from it, and baked it into bread. We have taken the grain and grapes that God has given us, worked with it, and by God’s grace have transformed it into something better: bread and wine. Now we offer him the fruit of our labors, although we would have nothing to offer apart from his goodness.
- Now, in expectation, we speak of what this bread and wine will become: the bread of life and our spiritual drink. God will take this thing that we offer and will transform it yet again, this time into something that we could never make it: the body and blood of Christ.
This prayer reminds us that we are collaborators with God in his work of creation. He has given us this world and filled us with the grace to care for it and develop it, turning potentials into beautiful realities as we turn grain into bread and grapes into wine. Trees are made into tables, ore is made into great buildings and valuable tools, the list goes on. Yet, try as we may, nothing our efforts create is eternal; our work in itself can never fulfill our deepest desires.
However, there is one way in which our labors can be eternal; we can offer them to God. In fact, the Book of Revelation suggests to us that the glory and honor of the nations, the fruit of our labor that we treasure so dearly, will indeed be in the Heavenly City. “The kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day- and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” (Rev 21:24-26). What value is it to bring the glory of the nations, things that are subject to decay, into an eternal city, unless these things also are transformed and made eternal? Unless God takes the work of human hands and once again makes it something better?
If this is true, then this bread and wine that we offer to God in Eucharist are a token of the entire creation, and the work we have done to create them are a token of all human labor… efforts that can only be brought to perfection if we place them back in the hands of God.
So, in this Berakhah, we bless the Lord for 3 graces:
- Giving us this earth and bringing forth growth from it.
- Giving us the ability to share his creative work, transforming this creation in so many ways.
- Giving us hope that the fruit of our work, when offered to God, is actually eternally significant.
With this in mind, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col 3:23).