“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 6-7
A few years I was talking to a stewardship consultant about churches and people we had met in our separate work and travels around the country. He asked me if I knew a certain priest from the Diocese of Oklahoma, the diocese in which I was ordained almost forty years ago. It happened that I did. Once, when newly ordained, I was having some difficulty in the mission congregations I served. This priest went out of his way to help me and I had not forgotten it. Even though I had not seen him since I moved away from Oklahoma in 1984, I knew that I needed to thank him once again. I certainly had thanked him at the time but I wanted to thank him once again to let him know that I had never forgotten what he had done for me. And so I called him up at the church he was now serving and expressed my thanks to him once more. We had a wonderful conversation. We caught up on what had happened to us and our families over the intervening years and we remembered what it was like for us to be young priests together in the Diocese of Oklahoma. I do not know how he felt after my phone call, but I know that for me I had completed something. I had given thanks and that, for me, had made all the difference.
One of the things I have learned over the years of my life is that human beings are the happiest when they are thankful. Expressing our thanks to God and to one another is essential to our well-being.
Most Episcopalians know that the word eucharist is a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” When Episcopalians gather for worship they celebrate and offer to God a “Holy Thanksgiving,” a “Holy Eucharist.” This form of the Holy Eucharist is shaped by four actions. Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and distributed the bread to his followers. On the night before he was betrayed Jesus took bread in his hands, lifted it towards the heavens, with the usual ritual glance upwards towards the heavens, gave blessing and thanks to God. As he broke it he told his followers “this bread is my body” broken and given for you. He did the same with the cup of wine. As he offered the bread and the wine he added these words: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
When we relive this story together we often focus our attention on the suffering of Jesus. That is, of course, central to this event. At the same time, however, we often forget the central role of thanksgiving in this event. What if we were to tell the story this way: Jesus himself is a Eucharistic Being who, in thanksgiving to God, gave his own self for us and for our salvation? When we make Eucharist together we do so to give thanks to God in Christ and through the Holy Spirit for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus who gave himself for us in thanksgiving to God. When we look at the Eucharistic event through the lens of thanksgiving it becomes evident that our participation in the eucharistic rite is an expression of thanksgiving to God.
Every time we make Eucharist together, we give thanks to the God who so wonderfully created us and to the God who so wonderfully redeems us.
When we make Eucharist together we give thanks to God for all that we are and all that we have. When we do so we are reminded that we like Jesus are also eucharistic beings, that is, we are people who are created by God to give thanks.
We Christians worship a God who is revealed in stories in which God showers blessings on the people of ancient Israel and on us in the person of Jesus Christ. God is not an abstract idea for us, but rather a God revealed in stories of love and concern for God’s people. When you look through the stories of the Scriptures you will see that God primarily is a giver. God always wants to give to God’s people. God showers blessings on God’s people because that is the nature of God.
From the earliest stories in the scriptures, God’s people have responded to the gifts God has given them by giving thanks in return. We are created by God and given life so that we might give thanks. The human being, in other words, is a eucharistic being. We are beings created to give thanks. If that is the case, then to be fully human, we have to learn how to give thanks to God and to do so in all circumstances.
St. Paul understood how important thanksgiving is to our lives. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 he writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In Philippians 4:6 he writes, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In Colossians 3:17 Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” In all of these examples — and there are many more like it in the New Testament— the word “eucharist” is central. We are who we are because we give thanks, because we are eucharistic beings.
When you begin to realize how central giving thanks to God is to your very being, to being the full person that God has called you to be, you will find that it will change the way you live.
So remember that you were made to give thanks and then offer to God the giver heartfelt thanks for all the gifts you have been given—food, family, shelter, friends, and so much more.