Thanksgiving With the Family

The Simpsons Celebrate ThanksgivingI’ve come to think of the Sacrament of the Altar (aka Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the Mass) as a multifaceted jewel: what I see there depends on what perspective I look at it from, but what I see there is always beautiful.

This multifaceted nature is reflected, I think, in the various names we have for this meal. Different theological traditions (and different people) lean more to one or another of the names, and the name we choose to use for this sacrament is often reflective of what facet we tend to look at most. For me, while all of the names listed above point to different truths about this meal, the one I come back to most often is Eucharist.

Eucharist is an Anglicization of a Greek word that means “thanksgiving”. In a sense, this is a perfect description of what happens in this meal. Just like millions of families every November (or October, if you’re Canadian), we gather around a table to give thanks. We gather to give thanks, despite the fact that we are ungrateful wretches a lot of the time. We gather, despite the fact that we may not be all that grateful for the person gathered next to us, but we gather with them anyway because we’re family, and that’s what families do. We gather, hungry for more than food. We fidget and squirm, hoping that the person offering the table grace will keep it short; but we also hear again the stories we’ve heard over and over again, the stories that make us who we are. We gather, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, saintly and sluggardly, and we remember again that God comes to us. We give thanks for all of the people in this big, raucous, rowdy, sometimes dysfunctional family who have come before us and who come with us and who will come after us. We give thanks that there is a place for us at the table, not because of anything we’ve accomplished, but because we are beloved children of the Host. And all of this is true, whether we gather with hundreds or even thousands in a grand cathedral, or with just one other in an overheated nursing home room, or with a group of teenagers on wooden benches under the stars, or with a convicted felon in a dingy prison cell.

I was stopped by a parishioner after worship recently who remarked that she loves to watch me during the distribution of the sacrament, because I usually have a big goofy grin on my face. I replied, “Yup. Thanksgiving with my family tends to do that for me.” I hope it does that for you, too.

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