Christ Jesus is our reason for thanksgiving. Christ rescues us from ourselves, opening us up to the new creation that he brings through his reign, opening us up to true life which is found in him and nowhere else. From the earliest days, the response of those who have been set free in Jesus Christ is to give thanks, gladly, joyfully, freely. Eucharisto: I give thanks. The Apostle Paul tells the Philippians to rejoice, chairete, and to make their requests known to God “with thanksgiving,” meta eucharistias. And the writer Justin Martyr, one of the first witnesses to Christian worship outside the Bible, tells us that prayer and thanksgiving were always a part of the regular Sunday worship services; in fact, Justin says that the Christian name for the bread and wine that were central to Christian worship was Eucharistia, the Eucharist, or what in some of our churches is called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper. Long before there were Puritan pilgrims, or Abraham Lincoln, or turkey and gravy, followers of Jesus knew to call the most important food we share our thanksgiving meal.
Giving thanks takes us out of ourselves. So much of our world, from advertising to self-help books to a spirit of independence and self-reliance, pushes us inward, upon ourselves. But to be thankful is not just to be grateful for something. To be thankful is to be grateful to someone else. Gratitude is our way of acknowledging that someone outside of ourselves has done something that we didn’t do, and that, in some cases, we couldn’t have done ourselves. This is not just true in a religious sense. If I write you a thank-you note after receiving a gift, I am saying, in effect, my gladness, my joy, has been made possible by your existence and your actions.
Again, this is not reinforced by how we live our modern way of life. We are consumers in this culture, whether we are liberals or conservatives or independents. As consumers, our focus is to enjoy the things we have as much as possible, right up to the point when they no longer give us pleasure, and then we throw them away. Now this works in some really obvious ways: you’re hungry, you go to McDonald’s or Chik-fil-a, you eat what you want, you throw away the rest, until you get sick of those places and you start eating at Burger King or Wendy’s, where the cycle starts all over again. Same thing for your car, your house, your television shows and movies, even your favorite music. If we’re good consumers, savvy consumers, we know how to get the longest enjoyment from something for the least amount of money.
Now, that focus on consuming food or other “things” for our enjoyment has enough problems by itself, but the truth is, we are consumers of far more than just the things we buy. We can act as consumers in our relationships: we value the time we spend together with other people, but when we get bored with them, we find new people to enjoy time together. Even in our marriages we do this. And we also act as consumers in our faith: we enjoy going to church at a certain place for a while, but when we move or when we get tired of that place, or when something difficult or disagreeable comes up, we go church shopping, just like we go shopping for a new car or a different fast food chain. We even do this with God. We ask for blessings, they come our way, and then we expect more blessings. As consumers, we are thankful, but only half-way. We are thankful for what we have, but we are not grateful to who has given it to us.
If you are in a congregation that follows the lectionary, you heard a really good example of this just a few weeks ago in the story of the Pharissee and the tax collector in the temple. The Pharisee is also only half-grateful: I thank you, Lord, that I am not like this sinful tax collector, he prays. There’s no doubt the Pharisee is thankful, but his gratitude is really a show of arrogance. He is grateful for something he has, a status in this case, but he’s not really grateful to the One who has given him his blessings.
This brings us to our gospel reading this evening, from John 6. Jesus has just fed the five thousand. The crowd’s response is to try to make Jesus king on their own terms, so Jesus and his disciples flee to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. But of course the people track him down, and Jesus knows why: they want more bread; they want more miracles. They love this show! It’s great. It reminds them of the days of their ancestors, when manna fed the Israelites in the wilderness. They want more of that. And the fun bit is that Jesus calls them out on it: “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves.” You are thankful for what you have—the loaves that fed you, and not to the one who has fed you—the one the signs point to.
Now Jesus and the crowd enter into a dialogue about Moses, and manna, and the work of God, but the point comes down to this: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Ohh, that sounds good. I love bread. I like baking bread and the smell of bread and the taste of bread. Bread of God, that gives life to the world: mmm, I could enjoy that for a long time. I can almost taste it. Where can I get this bread? How do I come by it? I want it, not just now, but always. Where is this bread of life?!
“I am… the bread of life,” says Jesus.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Oh. I see. You, Jesus, are the bread, and you are the Son of the Father, who gives us the bread. You, Jesus, are what I need and who I need. You bring me outside myself, you call me to enjoy what you offer to me in gratitude to you, the one who gives it to me. Eucharisto: I thank you. Chaireto: I rejoice in you, Lord, always. Chaireto: I rejoice; eucharisto: I give thanks to you, for you, in you, again and again and always. Your existence and your actions have made possible my gladness and my joy.
In just a moment, we will all give thanks to the Lord with singing and with praise as we gather around the table of Eucharist, the table of thanksgiving. I am thankful for what we will receive there: the bread of life, the cup of salvation, and the fellowship and unity in Christ we share this evening that brings us out of ourselves and our denominations to celebrate together. And I am grateful to God the Father, through Christ the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who has given himself to us in the Holy Communion we will share.
Tomorrow, I invite you to make your home Thanksgiving tables a little more like this table of Eucharist. Be thankful for what you have, by all means, but also be grateful to the One who has given you all things. And carry that true, rich thanksgiving into your relationships with those who gather at your home Thanksgiving tables tomorrow. Allow your thanks to take you outside of yourself and into sincere gratitude for the people whose lives have made your gladness and your joy possible. And exclude no one from your table of thanks, or from your sincere gratitude. Amen.