Thanksgiving, to the best of my historical research, was designed as a sort of celebratory fall festival, specifically as a way of giving thanks for God’s providence of harvest. It may well have been taken from an earlier, pre-American festival on the other side of the pond, but the point is, from the outset the desire was to give thanks for all of God’s bounty. And it involved people who understood themselves as somewhat different coming together around the table in order to thank God.
Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) He was speaking at his Last Supper to disciples who would later draw upon his words, and furthermore to the Early Church who would put together the service of Holy Communion we now celebrate monthly. But Jesus speaks to us of a common table and an ordinary loaf of bread and a simple cup that we share, 2,000 years later. It is a feast both now and not quite yet of God’s Kingdom advancing and his claim to us, redeemed by his shed blood. Jesus spoke of breaking down our divisions and being thankful for the moments we share together with him. Was Christ himself not thankful for that Last Supper with those ragtag group of friends he had come to see as like family?
The Greek word for Communion that we sometimes use is “Eucharist”, which means, “Thanksgiving”. So what can we take from Thanksgiving, the holiday, to help us as we recognize the Great Thanksgiving, Holy Communion? Three simple things:
First, we are filled with gratitude because we recognize (in part) the worth of the sacrifice. Christ died for us. Therefore, our hearts are filled with thanks.
Second, we learn to give thanks through practice, in the now and in the each and every time following. We receive Holy Communion the first Sunday of this month and every month following. What a great month we have to practice, each and every day, discovering new ways to be thankful for the bounty of God’s work in our life.
Third, we learn to see the blessings in less than ideal situations when we position ourselves toward a disposition of giving thanks. Paul, likely writing from a house arrest prison arrangement to his beloved church at Philippi, said, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6) There Jesus was, with his disciples. He knew who would betray, accuse, try, throw him in prison, deny, and crucify him. He knew all of these lesser things, and the greater thing was what God would still do in glory through Jesus. And that here, in this moment, no matter how broken and imperfect his sometimes bumbling, sometimes brash, sometimes prideful family he had carried with him across Galilee was, here was one last meal he could have with his disciples. If he could give thanks, despite all that he knew then surely we could do the same.
Grace and peace,