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Posted by on Aug 12, 2016 | 0 comments

The Feast of Thanksgiving

And be thankful. Col. 3:15b

Growing up I didn’t really know what communion meant. EucharistChaliceCommingledWhen I was a kid I was taught that the proper way to take communion in my church was to hold the cup and wafer with stillness and solemnity while confessing my sins. Then, following the words of the preacher, I would eat the wafer and drink the cup in unison with the whole of the congregation. Communion was a time to remember that Jesus died for us to take away our sins, and proper etiquette was required for that moment once a month when we passed along the trays full of grape juice.This was really hard for a kid who didn’t know how to stop wiggling.  In high school I was instructed that to not properly confess my sins before taking communion was risking calling God’s wrath down upon me, for this is the obvious and clear meaning of 1 Cor. 11:29-30. It has taken me a long time to break away from this habit of internal flagellation before the table, and it has only been recently that I have begun to take seriously the call to be thankful that is at the heart of the Eucharist.

Lately I have been convicted that I have not been living a life of thankfulness. I particularly lack thankfulness when I am feeling anxious. In my anxiety my insecurities rear their ugly head primarily through the form of complaint.[1] I feel this most acutely when I approach the table at church. What I have come to discover is that to approach the table without a spirit of thanksgiving is to assume that the confession I just made, and the scripture reading announcing the absolution of my sins, is not enough to offer me assurance that God’s judgment will not consume me. When I approach the table without thanksgiving I am essentially saying that while I acknowledge my need for the forgiveness offered on the cross, I won’t accept what comes after that: the joy that comes from a life lived in Christ.

I am not saying that confession and a penitent spirit are things we should not strive for as we look to the cross. What I am saying is that the result of these attitudes should cultivate in us a spirit of thanksgiving. The absolution offered to us through the cross is the promise that when we approach the table our joy will increase. The word we derive the English word Eucharist from is the Greek word eucharisto which means thankfulness. It is a compound of two words in Greek, eu and charis, meaning “good grace.” By breaking down the etymology of eucharisto we see that the goodness of God’s grace evidenced in the body and blood is what makes us thankful.

Understanding the Eucharist as a means towards a life of thanksgiving has been transformative in my experience. For it is only when I approach the table with thanksgiving that I can set aside any sort of hierarchy or self-perpetuated holiness that is found  both in false-piety and an overwhelming sense of the depravity of my soul. When I am thankful my complaints of the week seem hollow because they are connected to what I think I deserve—essentially they are a result of my self-perpetuated holiness; they stem from the fact that I want more blessings without being thankful for the gifts that I have received. In this manner, my confession before the Eucharist is not really an admission of guilt, but a secret password into the moral life of a God fearing Christian who can make demands of God.

Instead, if I approach the table with thanksgiving, I am acknowledging that the gift of forgiveness God has given me has nothing to do with my confession, but it is a free gift that proceeds from the cross. Properly understood, my confession before the table is an acknowledgement of how my actions have not proceeded from my thanksgiving, and after my confession it is proper for me to go forth with praise and not further penitence. To turn my face to the cross should be an act of thanksgiving, and to receive the body and blood should be a joyful activity–for my sins have already been forgiven! Thus, by proceeding to the table I acknowledge that the peace that Christ offered through his sacrifice is mine, and that it is only through this peace that I can be thankful. Therefore, let us keep the feast of thanksgiving; Alleluia!

[1] I do want to take a moment and clarify that complaining and lament are not the same thing. Lament is the lifting of one’s voice in a protest against injustice.

And be thankful. Col. 3:15b

 

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A.A. Grudem

I am a coffee drinker, book reader, and horrid speller.

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