“Eucharist” comes from a Greek word which means “to give thanks.” It has been used as a synonym for “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” by the whole church, including the early Methodists.
The word looms large at the Last Supper. Jesus “took a cup, and when he had given thanks [eucharisteō] he said, ‘Take this’”; then, he “took bread, and when he had given thanks [eucharisteō], he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body’” (Lk. 22:17, 19). Since the Last Supper was a Passover meal, the thanksgiving was not merely for the physical bread and wine. It reflected the gratitude of the participants for the redemption God had wrought in the exodus, anticipating the new exodus which Christ was about to accomplish by his death and resurrection. William Burt Pope, commenting on the Last Supper, concludes that “the first word used, εὐχαριστήσας, gives the ordinance a name: it is a thankful and glorying commemoration, or the Eucharist.”
As families gather on the fourth Thursday of November to eat a Thanksgiving meal, remember that you are invited to gather every week with your Christian family to eat a Eucharistic/Thanksgiving meal on the Lord’s Day.
As families gather on the fourth Thursday of November to eat a Thanksgiving meal, remember that you are invited to gather every week with your Christian family to eat a Eucharistic/Thanksgiving meal on the Lord’s Day (see “How Often Should We Receive The Lord’s Supper?”). The Lord’s Day is a day of thanksgiving because it is a thankful commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And since the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sins is at the heart of the gospel, the presentation of his body and blood in the bread and wine of the Eucharist is the climax of the church’s thanksgiving.
In the Didache (lit., “Teaching”), likely written in the first century, we have one of the earliest extra-biblical accounts of the church’s worship. It is presented as the Lord’s Teaching through his Apostles. Chapter 9 concerns “The Thanksgiving (Eucharist)”:
Now concerning the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), thus give thanks. First, concerning the cup: We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever. But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. Matthew 7:6
Later, in Chapter 14, the Didache instructs, “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”
In the second century, Justin Martyr likewise writes that the president of the assembly was to prepare the bread and wine each week, and
When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. … And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion. (First Apology, Chapter LXV)
Christian worship is characterized by an abundance of thanksgiving, with the Eucharist (Thanksgiving) at its center. The Christian family should come to the Lord’s Table as families gather at their tables for Thanksgiving: with childlike excitement to feast on Christ our Living Bread and give thanks for every spiritual blessing in him.
Christian worship is characterized by an abundance of thanksgiving, with the Eucharist (Thanksgiving) at its center.
Sadly, a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 11 has led many to come to the table with a spirit of fear and sobriety, or to avoid it altogether (see “If I Take Communion Unworthily, Will I Drink Damnation to My Soul?”). If you are a child of God through Christ, then the Father has invited you to a Thanksgiving meal with his holy family. Do not be afraid! He has promised to feed you with the living bread of his own beloved Son. We who trust in Christ can rejoice in the present possession of a relationship with God through him. Christ gave himself that he might sanctify his people to himself and live in intimate communion with us forever.
Finally, if you compare your Thanksgiving Day feast—turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and rolls—with the little bits of bread and little drops of wine of the Eucharistic feast, remember this: besides being a spiritual feast, the Lord’s Supper anticipates the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, that eternal Thanksgiving feast which will be revealed at Christ’s coming. At the Lord’s Thanksgiving Table, we eat just enough to whet our appetite for all that yet awaits. Our God delights to eat with his ransomed people, and we will feast with him forever. Meanwhile, God has ordained a regular thanksgiving/eucharistic meal, and you’re invited!