Holy Communion, a sacrament common to most Christian denominations, also goes by the name Holy Eucharist in many Christian churches. “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word “eucharistos,” which means gratefulness or thanksgiving.
I thought of this as I contemplated the season we are entering this month, a time when we remember all that we have to be grateful for as we give our thanks to God.
I am writing this article Nov. 12 with the awareness that Sunday was Veteran’s Day. We remember that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month an Armistice was signed in 1918, bringing World War I — the “war to end all wars” — to a conclusion. And while the hope that it would be the “war to end all wars” proved to be naïve, its annual remembrance gives us a chance to pause, remember the service that all of our nation’s veterans provide to our country, to pray for the men and women serving in war zones now and to give thanks to God for the sacrifice that so many made on our behalf.
And while I am thinking about recent events, I’m thankful for the completion of our national and local election last week. Whether the outcome of the election was what you had hoped for, I suspect you can join me in giving thanks that the political advertising on television and radio is over. Again, whether or not your preferred candidates were elected, I believe we should be thankful that we live in a country where differing views can be heard, where citizens can vote without coercion or fear and where peace is kept following the announcement of results. I thank God for this.
By the time you read this article, we are one week or less from Thanksgiving Day. This day is our annual reminder to think about all we have to be thankful for in the people around us, our friends, family, work associates, etc. As I reflect on my own life, I give thanks to God for my wife, my three healthy and happy children, the exchange student who has joined our family this fall, for the ministry I have with the patients and staff of Lakeview Hospital and Hospice and so much more.
While I can appreciate and give thanks for the many good things in my life, my enthusiasm on this Thanksgiving Day will be tempered by my awareness that some of my neighbors throughout this country are struggling. I’m aware that there are many who will not sit down to a table as covered by food as mine will be, due to poverty, homelessness or joblessness. In this season that celebrates the bounty of our agricultural harvest, I’m aware that, while Minnesota farmers fared quite well, many American farmers had little or no crop to harvest this fall due to drought. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I’m aware that there are many people whose focus will be on picking up the pieces of their broken lives, more than on thanksgiving.
It’s hard to know how I would respond in these difficult circumstances, but I believe that my faith, and my hope, would prod me to recognize what I do have to be thankful for. Much too slowly, jobs and the American economy seem to be coming back, offering some hope for the jobless. Farmers know that the long and cold winter is followed by spring, and by hope for the next crop. My East Coast neighbors might give thanks that they survived this horrible storm, that they have some capacity for resilience, and that they can rebuild their lives. Even in the face of despair, there are opportunities to recognize hope and give thanks.
This season of thanksgiving reminds us that as we go about our lives throughout the year we would do well to see things through the lens of Eucharist, gratefulness and thanksgiving. To see our lives and the world around us through the lens of Eucharist is to adopt a posture in life that can help us be truly grateful for the good things we experience, and help us cope with the difficult things that come our way. It helps us remember and acknowledge that God is with us in both.
As you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner next week, I hope you will look back at the year just past, reflecting on that time through the lens of Eucharist, so that you can name and express gratitude for all that God has done for you. Let the bounty of the meal before you, whatever that might be, serve as a reminder of God’s love for you. And give thanks.
Bob Furniss is chaplain at Lakeview Hospital and Hospice