This week we celebrate American Thanksgiving and it brings to mind the Great Thanksgiving. Catholic and Liturgical Protestant Churches call it the Eucharist which literally means The Great Thanksgiving; other denominations call it The Lord’s Supper, or Communion. Brethren Churches wash feet during their service. Regardless of the exact practice and beliefs surrounding it, all recognize the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus by following the instructions He gave on the eve of his betrayal.*
What brought the Great Thanksgiving to mind for me during American ThanksgivingCelebration was a recent experience I enjoyed. As the closing ceremony to a SilentRetreat, we were presented with the Holy Sacrament. We were given instructionsfor how we were to receive it in our rustic setting. It was a moment gracedby the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit. It was a beautiful momentand the perfect way to end our retreat. It was the first time I both cried andlaughed during this holy event.
The reason for my quandary was a slight oversight that gave me a deeper appreciationfor what the sacrament is all about. A bit of miscommunication resultedin the fact that the normal crackers that were used for the sacrament were leftbehind. The grape juice representing the blood was accounted for, along withthe plate to lay the crackers on; so the retreat leaders prayed and discoveredsome crackers in the pantry that could be used. They broke them in the normalmanner and laid them on the plate. Neither tasted the crackers before the blessedcelebration began. It was during the service that the element representing Jesus’ bodyappeared different from what was expected. There was a loud sound of crunchingthat filled the silence and shocked the senses when the bread was eaten. Severalparticipants commented on how this harder cracker brought deeper meaning to theway Jesus was broken for us. When it was my turn to partake, I bit down and smiledinside and out because in addition to the loud sound, the cracker tasted likea tortilla chip to me. I then realized that it didn't matter what we used forthe elements, what mattered most is that we remembered with great thanksgivinghow Jesus’ gave His life for us.
I went back to my seat in awe that God could grace us with His presence and approvalbecause we used what we had and brought our focused hearts to this precious event. Asthe loud crunch emphasized Jesus’ brokenness, it caused me to meditateon exactly how Jesus’ body was broken for me. In spite of the factthat during crucifixion it was the common practice to break the legs of the criminalsin order to hasten their death when necessary, the Scripture is clear that nota bone of His was broken on the cross. In Jesus’ case when the Roman Soldiersattempted to break the legs of the prisoners they discovered that Jesus was alreadydead by piercing His side. John’s gospel reminds us, These things happenedso that the scripture would be fulfilled: "Not one of his bones will bebroken,"[John 19:36, referring to Exodus 12:46; Num. 9:12; Psalm 34:20] Whenwe are told to take the bread and remember Jesus’ body that was brokenfor us, we don't remember His bones being broke, but His heart literally breakingin two because He loved us so much. This Thanksgiving season I am thankful forso many reasons, but my greatest thanksgiving is due to the One Who gave Hisbody and blood for me. I want to remember Jesus on Thanksgiving Day and everyday.
*For an interesting perspective of the ways different churches celebratethe New Covenant, I highly recommend Robert Benson’s book, That We MayPerfectly Love Thee—Preparing our Hearts for the Eucharist. He offersunique perspectives of this holy practice based on his ministerial experiencesin several different mainline denominations.