A few years ago, I was studying the history of the eucharist for a presentation I was going to give to my adult faith formation group. As I prepared for my presentation, I was forever changed by the words of Tad Guzie in The Book of Sacramental Basics when he said:
“Most people, when they are asked what are the eucharistic symbols, will answer ‘Bread and wine.’ (What answer did you just give?) That is the answer that medieval theology gave. Bread and wine are the matter of the sacrament, the words of institution are the form. But the original eucharistic symbols are actions, not things. The original eucharistic symbols are breaking the bread and sharing the cup.”
This got me thinking about the four actions of Jesus during the Last Supper when he took, blessed, broke, and gave bread and wine to the apostles. (Matthew 26: 26)
Since eucharist is a word deriving from Greek that is generally translated as “thanksgiving,” and since here in America we will be celebrating a national day of Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to spend some time looking at how some of our most difficult moments can be celebrated, through Jesus’ example, as an offering of “thanksgiving.”
As we head into our Thanksgiving holiday, I will touch each day on one of these actions of Jesus, and what they might mean for us as we prepare ourselves to “give thanks.”
I have read a few reflections by others on how we can interpret Jesus’ directive to his apostles when he said, “Take it; this is my body” (Mark 14:22, NIV) For instance, Henry Nouwen interprets “take ” as “choose”1 and Ronald Rolheiser and Joyce Rupp interpret “take” as “receive;”2 but, to me, what Jesus is saying here is “accept it.” And the “it” that we are to accept? Well, I believe is whatever life we’ve been given. For instance, in my life, when I follow Jesus’ directive to “take it” it means I am accepting that in this moment I am a white, middle-aged, middle class, female American wife, mother and housewife who also blogs and writes. Some of these things could change. Some of these things cannot. But the only way to truly “give thanks” for the life I’ve been given, is to accept my life (in this moment and in all future moments) for what it is in each moment.
One of the best ways to do that is to follow God’s example through the life of Jesus and apply his experiences to my own. As a result, through Jesus’ example, I know that the human journey is one that contains moments of deep love (John 13:1) , and great joy (Luke 2:10), where some of us will be fortunate to see –and even participate—in miracles (John 4:48). (Try telling any mother that the experience of childbirth isn’t a miracle. I’ve given birth three times!) The human experience is one in which I will also know wonder (Mark 9:15) , blessings (Mark 5:34) , and friendship beyond measure (Mark 2:1-5). Accepting the life I’ve been given, however, means I cannot deny—because Jesus certainly didn’t–that part of the human experience will also involve temptation (Matthew 4: 1-11), suffering (Matthew 26: 37-38) , agony (Luke 22:42-44) and death (Luke 23:46). It will likely include experiencing what it means to be misunderstood and misjudged and unappreciated, too (Matthew 27:27-31), but it will also include resurrection (Luke 24:5-6). From this vantage point– this “big picture” view– it is easier to see that every part of our life, both the so-called “good” and the so-called “bad,” is God’s gift to us.
It is ALL gift, or, as Richard Rohr says, “Everything belongs.”
“Take it,” urges Jesus.
And give thanks.
1. Life of the Beloved, by Henri J.M. Nouwen