The idea of a Thanksgiving meal began not in colonial America but in first century Palestine when Jesus gave thanks before he distributed bread and wine to his disciples and commanded his followers to continue the practice. One of the words Christians have used to refer to this meal is the Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving.’ Whenever we take the Lord’s Supper, it should stimulate us to be more thankful and perhaps it can even infuse a fresh, rich meaning to our Thanksgiving holiday.
I want to consider three dimensions to the Lord’s Supper—the past, present, and future—and how they encourage us to be thankful.
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at his last supper, he told his disciples to “Do this in remembrance of me.” By remembering what Jesus did for us, our lives are grounded in his finished work for us. The Lord’s Supper isn’t a way you can earn your salvation, but a thanksgiving meal for those who are saved. It doesn’t add anything to the finished work of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, but confirms and strengthens us in him. It becomes a sort of gospel shorthand. As Paul put it, “as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim our Lord’s death until he comes.” Each time I take the bread and the cup, I preach the gospel to myself.
Sometimes people drink to forget their troubles. As Christians, we drink to remember Jesus’ triumph. In doing so, we’re refreshed by knowing we’re defined not by our past, but by Jesus’ past. That’s the past dimension.
Paul pointed to the present dimension of the Lord’s Supper when he said, “the cup of thanksgiving..., is it not aparticipation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). That word translated ‘participation’ could also be translated ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion.’ It’s where we get the term communion, another term Christians use to refer to this meal. Think of what this means. The Lord’s Supper is not only a symbolic reminder of what Jesus has done for us. It’s a present communion in and with Jesus.
The bread and wine don’t change. Jesus isn’t present physically, but he is present spiritually, mysteriously, vitaly as the Holy Spirit exhibits him to us by faith. For those who are spiritually unresolved, the Lord’s Supper is a call to receive Christ rather than to participate in the meal. When we as believers take communion by faith, Jesus meets with us, nourishes us with himself, and strengthens us to love and obey him in a life of heartfelt thanksgiving. That’s the present dimension.
When Jesus gave his disciples the cup he said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” With these words, he directed them to the future dimension of the Lord’s Supper. It would be a sign pointing forward to the great day of thanksgiving. It’s a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb and the everlasting feast believers will enjoy in glory. Though we’re broken creatures due to sin, through Christ’s broken body we are made whole again. Yet in this life we continue to experience the brokeness of our fallen condition. The future dimension of the Lord’s Supper points us forward in hope to the day when we will be made completely whole.
Because of all that it is, we come to the Lord’s Supper with both humility and joy. We know it’s not a badge of honor for the spiritually superior. It’s a mercy for the weak. We come as God’s dearly loved children to be reminded of who we are in Christ, to be strengthened by him as we meet with him by faith, and to wet our appetite for that day when we will enjoy with our Savior the ultimate thanksgiving day feast.