(The following is a Communion meditation shared in my local church as we look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday.)
The Lord’s Supper is also called Communion or even the Eucharist. That latter term, Eucharist, comes from the greek word eucharisteo, which means “to give thanks.” In Luke 22, when Jesus instituted this meal, breaking the bread and drinking the cup, it says he did so by “giving thanks.” Since we’re less than two weeks away from what might be my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, I thought it might help us approach Communion today by considering why it’s a meal about giving thanks.
At the Lord’s Supper scene in Luke 22:19, when Jesus shares the bread and cup representing his body and blood, he gives thanks for them and then says, “do this in remembrance of me.” This joining of thanksgiving and remembering isn’t unique to Jesus or Luke, but it’s repeated throughout the Bible. Giving thanks includes recalling who God is through how he has been faithful. You can’t give thanks unless you see and remember God’s actions and attributes. To give thanks, therefore, is to remember how God has been at work and to praise him for it.
Let me give one example. In 1 Chronicles 16, David has a song of thanksgiving sung to God. The first few verses start:
8 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!
9 Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!
10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
11 Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!
12 Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,
13 O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!
As the song continues, David recounts God’s wondrous works in the history of Israel. God redeems them from Egypt with a mighty hand. He carries them into the promised land and delivers them from their enemies. He defends and provides around every corner of Israel’s story, and David gives thanks by remembering God’s mighty deeds. This is a common pattern in the Bible. Thanksgiving takes place by God’s people remembering the ways and works of God. They give thanks not as some courteous nod to God solely for a gift received—like you might do to Aunt Sally for the socks she sent you—but instead, giving thanks is a heartfelt act of gratitude for how someone has shown kindness to us.
What we learn in these examples where remembering and thanksgiving are joined together is that recalling God’s goodness, faithfulness, and power in the past reminds us God will do the same for us today and tomorrow. David gives thanks to God’s deliverance against enemies throughout Israel’s history because doing so reaffirms his faith that God will also deliver him against the enemies he now faces. Giving thanks leads to trust. Remembering God’s past work leads to trusting God to work in the future.
Today we do the same in the Lord’s Supper as we give thanks and remember Christ. We remember Jesus, the sinless son of Man and the almighty Maker in one person, who died on a cross as a substitute for you and me. His body was the bread, broken in half, for us. His blood was the wine, crushed and poured out, for us. At this meal, we remember Jesus by recalling his sacrifice as the only hope for forgiveness. We recall the immeasurable love and grace of God to send his only Son to deliver us from our sin, to defeat our enemies, and to set us free. We remember God has been faithful and has abundantly provided in Jesus everything we need to answer our deepest problems and our deepest longings. When we remember the sacrificial death of Christ, we give thanks for all these things we now have in him. We give thanks remembering God’s work in the past that remains true for us in the present and in the future.
In remembering and giving thanks for these things, we’re reminded in this meal that Christ is our Lord today and his salvation continues even as I feed on him now. The same God who held nothing back in sending Jesus will hold nothing back from me I need today or tomorrow. The same God who defeated the greatest of enemies at the cross will defeat the enemy in front of me this week. The same God who proved himself so kind, so faithful, so strong, and so good through Christ’s work is the same God who today promises to continue to be kind, faithful, strong, and good to us. The God we give thanks to as we remember all that He’s done is the God we now trust by looking to Him for the things He will do.
As this next song “Remembrance” is sung, I’d encourage you to reflect on the person and work of Christ, to remember all the mercies received, and to give thanks for all you have through him. May giving thanks for what Jesus has done help us trust him for what he has promised he will do.
If you’ve never turned from sin and trusted in Jesus alone for salvation, it’s not that you aren’t invited to this meal, but since you’ve yet to place the weight of your hope on Jesus it wouldn’t make sense to take the elements symbolizing trusting in his body and blood. But as you listen to this next song, I hope you consider the person and work of Jesus being offered to you today. In him is life, and in him we find all the things we need most and desire most. That’s why we give him thanks.
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” (1 Co 11:23–25)