(This devotional is day seventeen of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
Read Matthew 26:26–29; Hebrews 8:6–13
The Lord’s Supper. Communion. The Eucharist. The New Covenant meal Jesus inaugurated and served up to his disciples on the night of his betrayal is called many things. Whatever terms your church tradition uses, this sacrament (or ordinance) is a visible sign and seal of the gospel. Since the church’s inception, Christian’s have regularly celebrated it together in local churches to visibly proclaim the gospel and feed on Christ.
Like a good red wine that can be sweet and yet a little bitter, Communion is both somber and celebratory. It’s sobering because it reminds us of our sin and need for cleansing, something only the Lamb of God could provide. But it’s celebratory because through it we (together) taste again the sweet joys of forgiveness, reconciliation, and salvation. Through it our hearts feed on Christ and find grace. And through it we look with hope to the future when we will take this meal with Jesus. What a day that will be…
The Church gets the name Eucharist from the Greek word Eucharisteo, which means to give thanks or feel thankful. Within it are layers of meaning since charis means grace, or even favor or gifts of grace, and chara means joy. It’s a meal of giving thanks, both because Jesus “gave thanks” (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24) and because we give thanks for all we receive from Jesus through it. Nestled inside our thanksgiving to Jesus is the grace and joy found in Jesus.
One thing I love about The Lord’s Supper is how physical and tactile it is. Baptism and Communion provide physical object-lessons so we can better wrap our minds around the gospel as we wrap our hands around it. Sometimes we need this more tangible, palpable assurance. The gospel not only enters us through our ears (proclamation) but through our eyes (seeing), nose (ideally the bread and wine would have a smell to it), lips (we taste it), and touch (splashed by the baptismal waters and feeling the communion bread between our fingers). As the visible gospel is paired with the verbal gospel explaining what it means, God meets with us and gives grace to us as we trust and rest in Jesus by faith as we eat. It’s a gospel you can believe on not only with your heart and mind, but also by exercising faith through your fingers and tongue as we touch and taste it.
But all the physicality of this Communion Meal is meaningless apart from the realities it signifies to us and seals in us. What’s most precious is the gospel of Jesus seen and tasted in it. It’s a reminder of all God has promised and given to us through Christ. Like a Thanksgiving meal, we eat it in celebration and thankfulness, and we do so with the ones we love who share our union with Christ.
A Thanksgiving Toast
What is there to be thankful for in this meal?
Since Communion connects to the gospel and its infinite list of blessings, there’s no end to how this meal might lead us to consider all we have in Christ. For our purposes, we’ll limit ourselves to a few things today’s texts mention to spur our gratitude for Jesus.
The bread represents the body of Jesus, broken and crushed on the cross in our place. Whenever I take communion, as I roll my fingers over the bread it reminds me Jesus had a physical body. He was the incarnate Lord who lived a flesh-and-blood life of righteousness on this earth and now reigns as my High Priest in heaven. As I eat the bread, feeling the power of my teeth pulverizing and grinding the bread, it points me to how Jesus’ body was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). I can be made whole in him only because he was broken for me.
The cup is the blood of the covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. As I hold this cup of blessing, it points to the cup of wrath Jesus fully drank. I drink a cup of joy and celebration because Jesus drank the cup of sorrow and judgment. If we drink sugary grape juice rather than wine (as my church and many others do), we lose a bit of what wine conveys. Red wine is both sweet to the taste but also has an element of bitterness to it. Such is the cross and the death of Jesus. Both joy and sorrow wash over our minds as we savor the wine in this meal. Whether it’s from looking at the cup when it’s full, or feeling it slide down our throat, it takes us to the cross when Jesus’ blood was poured out. Because his life was taken, mine can be spared (see Hebrews 9:22).
Through faith in Jesus, we are united to him. As he took our sin and undergoes judgment, we now receive his righteousness and experience justification. We not only are made right with God and restored to Him, but we become part of His family and people. God gives us all these things through the New Covenant. The one true God becomes our God, and we—sinners saved by Christ—become His people (Hebrews 8:10). Forever. And with these gifts of union with Christ, justification, and adoption, we receive all other blessings in Christ.
The blessings of life in Christ and life as the Father’s beloved children and life in the power of the Spirit become ours. God will be with us and for us from now until…forever. There will never again be a time when we are not God’s people, receiving all the care and gifts accompanying such a gracious privilege.
Everything we’ve read about and will read about in this thirty-day devotional—all the blessings, gifts, joys, and promises—are true because of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. We would have none of them apart from Christ alone and they become ours by grace alone and through faith alone.
I’d say “eucharisteo,” or giving thanks, is a fitting term for a meal representing and conveying such wonderful truths. This is the true and satisfying thanksgiving meal, offering joys beyond what turkey and stuffing could dare to imagine.
The death of the sinless Savior Jesus for sinners like us is the blessing of all blessings. Not only is it the greatest gift to us, but because of it and through it all other gifts are purchased for us and given to us.
As you go throughout your day, meditate on the wonderful gift of Christ. God has truly given us many great gifts, and I hope you’ve been encouraged throughout this month as you’ve considered some of them. But none compare to Christ. There is no greater gift God could have given, both in its cost and its value, than Jesus the Son. Take a minute to pray in thanksgiving to God for such a priceless gift. God is your God, you are His part of His people, and that changes everything.
To go deeper in biblical thanksgiving and understand how it leads us to know and enjoy God, check out my book The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of A Lost Spiritual Discipline.