Thanksgiving Communion

Whom should I thank?

The question is normally a matter of polite
acknowledgement. A gift was given and received. Who gave
it? Whom should I thank?

It is inherently the nature of giving thanks that thanks
must be given to someone. I cannot give thanks to nothing
or no one. As such, the giving of thanks is an act of
communion on one level or another.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in the last sermon of his life,
said, “Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable
of salvation and eternal joy.” I would expand that
and say as well, that everyone capable of thanksgiving is
capable of becoming human – for the fullness of our
humanity is found primarily in communion. And the
communion of thanksgiving is perhaps communion at its
deepest level.

The prominent place of thanksgiving within the life of the
Old Testament seems strangely obscured by most Christian
treatments. The system of sacrifice is often
misunderstood. The offering of bulls and goats is easily
interpreted as a system of payments to an angry God. Our
sins have created a debt and deserved guilt. What is owed
to God must be paid. But this very treatment of sacrifice
is condemned within the Old Testament itself.

I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild
beasts of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would
not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of
goats? Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the
Most High. (Psa 50:11-14 NKJ)

The offering given to God is given in thanksgiving or it
is useless.

It is quite accurate to view the whole of the life given
to Israel as an economy of thanksgiving. The
system of the tithe, giving to God a tenth of possessions,
is not a system of payments, “rent” given to a
heavenly landlord. It is an offering of thanks, an act of
communion, sharing with God the very life of the land
itself. God and Israel have a communion in the land
– something which truly makes it the land of
promise.

The system of the Sabbath, when rightly observed, has the
same character. The Sabbath Day represents God’s
time, set aside from labor. Acquisition stops. Time itself
becomes an act of thanksgiving. The more radical practice
of the Sabbath, when an entire year (the seventh year) is
set aside demonstrates how profound the nature of this
communion was intended to be. Debts were cancelled in the
seventh year. We set others free from their bonds because
God has set us free from ours. Former slaves should not
create new slaves – it would be an act that negated
the giving of thanks.

It seems to me not surprising that the penal substitution
theory of the atonement has had such a cultural popularity
over the centuries. It became at home in a penal culture
– one of debts and punishments. The good, the
industrious, the diligent and the frugal prosper and
reign. The sluggard, the weak, and the slothful fall ever
further into poverty, driven by their own sin. There are
many things that ameliorate this model in modern culture,
but it remains at the structural heart of our lives.

The atonement, Christ’s death and resurrection, do
not have a place within such a structure. His death is not
a payment within a world of payments – an ultimate
sacrifice that we could not afford. It is rather the
trampling down of the whole world of payments, demolishing
the greatest debt of all: death. The sacrifice of Christ
is not like the blood of bulls and goats, only human. It
is Life poured out on death, thanksgiving triumphing over
necessity. Every act of thanksgiving is a communion in the
death and resurrection of Christ. It is for that reason
that the thankful are capable of salvation – for the
giving of thanks makes manifest the fundamental shape of
salvation.

All of this is the reason that from the earliest times,
the offering of Christ’s Body and Blood has been
known as the Eucharist. It is the
Thanksgiving. Were this not so, the Church would have
named this most central act of its life something else:
the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. These are later
titles given in an effort to distinguish Protestant
worship from Catholic. The word Eucharist is returning to
common usage, however. It will be truly significant when
the Eucharist (thanksgiving) returns to Christians as a
way of life.

The stuff of our daily lives should have more kinship with
Old Testament sabbath-thought than with the theories of
Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Maynard Keynes and the like.
For when we work for some reason apart from the giving of
thanks, we labor as slaves, bound to whatever it is that
we perceive as necessary. Christ would free us from such
bondage:

Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which
today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He
not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore
do not worry, saying,’What shall we eat?’
or’What shall we drink?’ or’What shall
we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles
seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all
these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His
righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
(Mat 6:30-33 NKJ)

This is not a commandment from Christ to cease working.
But it is a commandment to work rightly. Our
labor is right and good when it is done in communion with
God, and this is done primarily in the giving of thanks.
The heart of thanksgiving precludes the sense of
entitlement – for who gives thanks if what he has
was something to which he was entitled? My work, my
cleverness, my investments do not give me claim to wealth.
For if they give me claim to wealth, then why should I be
grateful for what I have?

But Christ gives us everything: “All things come of
Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”
And, “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, on
behalf of all and for all.” If all that I have is a
gift for which I give thanks, a means of communion with
God, then why should I begrudge sharing it with anyone?
Indeed, the act of sharing is itself a primary and
inherent part of giving thanks. We give to others because
what we have has been given to us. Like Israel, we have
communion with all those who are strangers to the goods of
this world, for we ourselves once were strangers:

Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know
the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the
land of Egypt. (Exo 23:9 NKJ)

The giving of thanks is not a moral activity: like
communion, it is a mode of existence. There is no
Christianity that does not include the giving of alms.
Sharing belongs to the ontology of the faith.

But do not forget to do good and to share, for with
such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Heb 13:16 NKJ)

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