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Names for the Lord’s Supper: The Eucharist
Midweek in the Second Sunday in Lent
March 15, 2017
The gifts of God are numerous and wonderful. Beyond compare is the gift of His own Son. In Lent we ponder this gift. We meditate on the suffering and death of Christ and prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of His resurrection. When we ponder the Passion of our Lord we see that this one-time gift of our Lord suffering and dying on the cross for all of our sins is granted to us as regards its benefits in the Holy Supper of our Lord. The blessings given in this Sacrament are bountiful and so it’s no wonder the Sacrament goes by many different names.
The first reference to the Lord’s Supper in the Scriptures is the Breaking of the Bread. The most common name among Christians as well as in history and also in the Lutheran Confessions is the Mass. This week we focus on another common name for the Lord’s Supper, although it’s not necessarily common in our circles.
The Eucharist is a name given to the Lord’s Supper in a similar way to the Breaking of the Bread. The action of Jesus in taking bread, breaking it, and giving it to the disciples came to be used to refer to the entire action of Christ is administering His Holy Supper; and so it was called the Breaking of the Bread. So with the Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving’. On the night in which He was betrayed our Lord took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body, which is given for you.” The action of Jesus of giving thanks before breaking the bread and giving it to them has come to refer to the whole action of Jesus of giving bread and wine and His body and blood in His Holy meal.
The word ‘eucharist’ comes from the Greek word in the New Testament that means ‘thanksgiving’. When Jesus took the bread and broke it He gave thanks. He prayed to the Father a blessing, giving thanks to Him for His good and gracious gifts. On the one hand, Jesus was following the liturgy of the Passover meal. He was sharing the Passover meal with His disciples and as the host of the meal He was saying the words and offering the prayers of the liturgy of this holy festival. The Passover was the annual celebration of the shedding of the lamb and the painting of its blood on the doorposts as the angel of death passed over those homes, thus sparing the firstborn of those households.
But now in this Passover meal Jesus was sharing with His disciples He wasn’t simply celebrating the festival. He was instituting a new meal. His words and prayers took on new meaning as He took what was old—the liturgy, the prayers, the bread, the wine—and offered up something new. His prayer of thanks was in this new light, for now He would be giving not just bread and wine but body and blood.
We have our own liturgies, our own festivals, our own customs. In our country we designate the fourth Thursday in November as a day of Thanksgiving. As a holiday many people get off work, some watch football, some go shopping, some go on vacation. Those who gather around the table with family have their traditions, carving turkey and ham, enjoying a good meal together. In our setting when people hear Thanksgiving they think of the holiday.
But recovering the word for the Lord’s Supper would bring greater awareness to a key element of this rich feast our Lord places before us. The Eucharist, the Thanksgiving, is the truest celebration of thanksgiving there is. How is this? How does this fit in with a major Scriptural theme? Go back to Eden. In the Garden of Eden everything was gift. Adam and Eve recognized everything as graciously given and they also recognized the Giver behind the gifts. They received the gifts and they gave thanks to God. Their lives were lives of continual thanksgiving because they naturally knew that everything they had, which was everything, was pure gift.
Isaiah 51:3, “For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” In the prophet Isaiah Eden is equated with Thanksgiving. The natural state of the people of God is giving thanks. Scripture describes Eden as the place where there is thanksgiving and song, joy and gladness in the Lord.
Paul in his analysis in Romans 1 of what’s wrong with the world shows that the main problem is that the world has become uneucharistic. It is not filled with thanksgiving. In verse 21 he says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The sign and proof of the fallenness and brokenness of the world is not that they’re sticking a knife in the back of another person or any number of horrible things people do to each other but that they do not see all around them the gifts the good giver gives. We are blind to this. We do not readily see that everything we have is gift. Everything is given by pure grace. Because we do not see this we do not at all times and in everything give thanks.
To be sure, there are people who recognize the value and even the necessity of gratitude. You will hear people say, “Be grateful.” That’s all well and good, but be grateful to whom? Can you truly show gratitude if it is not to the Great Giver of all that is good? Can you truly be thankful if you are not thanking the one who has given everything purely out of His love for the world? So, yes, gratitude is good, but we need to recognize that it is God to whom we are to be grateful.
Ps. 115:17-18 says, “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord!” The mark of the dead is that they don’t praise God. The mark of the living is that they do. The Lord comes into a world that is dead, not filled with eucharist. If our lips are not filled with thanksgiving they will be filled with all sorts of ungodly things; complaining, speaking ill of others, etc. Language was created so that we could say something back to the Creator and now we have twisted and distorted it. In the midst of this comes the perfect Eucharistic being. The Lord receives everything as gift. Even the cup of wrath. Jesus receives even the very judgment against sinners as a gift. He is the one who is the pray-er of the psalms. His prayer in Psalm 116 is, “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!’” And this, “I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.”
Picture it this way: when man stands before the throne of God, when all guilt has been atoned for, all sins forgiven, when all has been completed, there is nothing left except to give thanks. Eucharist is the state of perfect man. Thanksgiving is the life of paradise. The only full and real response of man for all that God has given is giving thanks. Jesus is the perfect Eucharistic being. In Him the whole creation becomes what it was meant to be.
The New Testament is filled with calling us into this life of thanksgiving. Hebrews 13 exhorts us to the sacrifice of praise: “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” Ephesians 5 says that we ought to give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 1Thessalonians 5: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul often begins his epistles by thanking God for the saints in Christ he is writing to. And there are many other passages calling us to eucharistic life. This is the life of Christ into which a Christian is Baptized.
The liturgy captures this, particularly in the Preface, which begins the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Preface is an ancient part of the liturgy. This tells us something about how Christians viewed themselves.
P The Lord be with you.
C And with thy spirit.
P Lift up your hearts.
C We lift them up unto the Lord.
P Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God.
C It is meet and right so to do.
P It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who on this day overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying…
This is doesn’t tell you what the worship service is about but what life is about. All times, all places.
How can we picture this? If you were to take a big rock and throw it into a pond of water and you look at the splash, the splash is the thanksgiving that fills the whole of time and space and the world. It is so big that there is no place where there is not the acknowledgment of gift given, because the gift given was so great. The gift of God of His Son is like the big rock, and the thanksgiving in response to that is like the waves flowing out from the splash.
Though eucharist, thanksgiving, is sacrifice, it is not what we do that is being elevated in calling Christ’s Supper the Eucharist. While our giving thanks is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, the Sacrament is a gift. In the songs of the liturgy you see nothing about sacrifice but of thanksgiving. It is our Lord who gave thanks. It is our Lord who gave thanks and then gave us the greatest of all gifts, Himself; what He gives us in the Holy Eucharist.
The size and awesomeness of the gift leads to deep humility and reverence and thanksgiving. The very body of Christ is given you. The very blood of Christ is given you. The God you are unable to see because of His holiness, you can’t touch because of His Otherness, now comes to you in this gift. You cannot but have an explosion of thanksgiving, along with deep reverence. Everything God gives us can be received in thanksgiving. And this greatest of all gifts, the Sacrifice Christ made, is given in the Eucharist. The giver of all good things is the one who gave the greatest gift in His Son because of His love for the world. Christ is the perfect man. He is the great High Priest. He stands before the Father and renders thanks. He sweeps us into this thanksgiving, joined with Him forever. Amen.