Thanksgiving 2021

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

November 25, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


In Greek, the word for “thanksgiving” is εὐχαριστία.  This is more than polite “thank you” that we teach to our children, but is a response, a quality of being grateful with implications of appropriate attitude and gratitude. 

And so it is often used as a name for the observance of the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.  It is no wonder that this became a shorthand term for this holy meal as when Jesus took the bread and the wine, He gave thanks.  Jesus follows the traditional Jewish pattern during the Passover of blessing, thanksgiving, breaking, and distributing, but used these elements of bread and wine in a new way to bring to completion that which the Passover meal foreshadowed and brings forgiveness and deliverance to His people from the slavery of sin.

As Christianity started to spread, much of the liturgy developed and was based off the OT pattern of worship, and centered God’s service through His Word and the Sacrament of the Altar.  There’s an ancient prayer and liturgical formula going back to at least Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, a document written around the year AD 250, that is the basis for what is called the Preface and the Proper Preface, those portions that begin the liturgy of the Service of the Sacrament. The word “preface” here doesn’t mean that this is something preliminary but rather that there is a proclamation and a preparation to be made. 

It all starts with a blessing: “The Lord be with you.” And the response: “and with thy spirit, or and also with you,” which is a recognition that the pastor stands in the stead of Christ and is about to offer Christ’s sacrifice to His people.  There’s the call and invitation to “Lift up your hearts,” and “We lift them up unto the Lord.” We lift up our hearts, our attitudes, our lives, our faith to our Lord Jesus who is about to come to us in His body and blood.  And then the encouragement to thanksgiving, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God” “It is meet/ it is good and right so to do.” 

And then the Pastor goes on with the Proper Preface, that is a portion and prayer of the preface that is proper to the specific season or day: “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You...”  What follows next changes depending upon the season of the church year and gives reason for that thanksgiving and is connected to the particular themes of Advent or Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and other special holidays. While there are various reasons, endless reasons, they all center around the gift of justification, that is, that “we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christ’s sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us.” (AC IV).

It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God because He has redeemed us, justified us, saved us.  If we weren’t justified, and if that justification wasn’t delivered to us by His means of grace, there’d be nothing worth thanking God for. All of the many things we can and should thank God are in recognition that He gives us all things out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  For all of this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  

So we receive the body and blood of Jesus After the distribution, the pastor speaks another blessing that actually enables us to thank and praise, serve and obey.  “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.”  These are not just words, but a divine blessing that imparts what it says: strength and preservation in your body and soul that comes from His body and blood; not just for here and now, but into eternity.  And as we rise from kneeling here, it is as if we hear the same words Jesus’ speaks to the healed Samaritan leper, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well/your faith has healed you.” And then we join our “Amen” to what Jesus has done, “yes, yes, let it be so.”  

So it’s no surprise then that afterward, the pastor says or chants: “O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good” and we respond by saying or chanting “And His mercy endures forever.” Then the pastor prays a thanksgiving prayer on our behalf. The most typical prayer is this: “We give thanks to You, Almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” The salutary or healthy gift is the true body and blood of Christ. We thank God for refreshing us through this. Then we pray that of His mercy He would strengthen us through the same, that is through the same salutary gift that refreshed us, the Holy Eucharist, that He would strengthen us in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another, which is to say that His refreshing mercy, which He bestows in the Sacrament, would cause us to love Him with our whole heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.  That is all in the form of thanksgiving.

And so maybe I don’t have to state the obvious, but I will.  The most natural way for Christians to give thanks to God is to receive the Eucharist, to take eat the body of Christ, to take drink the blood of Christ. To receive the gifts that Christ desires to give which enables and equips forgiven sinners for a life of thanksgiving. These ceremonies of the liturgy, based on the Word of God, demonstrate that in the Gospel Christ really speaks to us, really offers what He says, really gives thanks on our behalf.  The Service of the Sacrament is the finest prayer of thanksgiving we have as we receive from the Lord’s hand and from His eucharist,, as we return to the Lord again and again after our cleansing from the leprosy of sin to give praise and thanks to God by falling at the feet of Jesus.

It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God because He has given us His Body to eat and His Blood to drink. Our God has become a Man to buy and win us and He gives Himself as food, drink, and clothing. So we give thanks as we receive the forgiveness of sins in the Holy Eucharist. And giving thanks there He enables us to rise and go our way and give thanks in all other times and places, knowing that whatever the world may throw at us we have the bread of life, the cup of salvation, the medicine of immortality.  May the Holy Spirit inspire us to celebrate the Eucharist with thanks and praise.