Thankful Thanksgiving, Black and Blue Saints

The Greek word, eucharistia, from which we get the English word, eucharist—the breaking of bread and drinking of wine—means, at its core, thanksgiving. Today, as you eat and drink, remember that you are participating in a sacred feast. Every meal is a eucharist—a cause to give thanks—today, especially.

The lines between sacred and secular, between mere food and sacred feast, are blurred in our earliest Christian records. Shortly after Pentecost, the birth of the church, the earliest followers of Jesus gathered for the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42). It’s not clear what exactly this means. Maybe the earliest Christians met for communion or the eucharist. Maybe they met for meals. Or maybe they gathered for some combination—hearty meals that included the bread and the wine, which seems to have been the custom in the port city of Corinth.

Toward the end of the book of Acts, we see again the blurring of sacred and secular lines, when bread becomes divine blessing. Paul is about to be shipwrecked. The night before the sailors and citizens of Rome will float away on broken boards, they eat a final meal. Notice how evocatively Luke tells the story:

Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’ After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks [eucharistesen] to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. (Acts 27:33-36)

Paul prefaces this meal with sacred words even though his community, his church, his sailing synagogue, sort of, is as secular as the good Lord makes them. Yet this motley crew (literally: a motley sailing crew), too, participates in the eucharist—in thanksgiving.

My family has a tradition we practice at meals when we are all together, which doesn’t happen very often, with a daughter about to graduate from college in Texas and a son about to graduate from high school here at home in Seattle. Still, we keep it up. Each of us says one thing we are thankful for. Then we say a prayer we found 22 years or so ago in a children’s prayer book:

God pushed up the mountains,

God rolled out the sea,

God painted the sky,

And then God made me.

Not the deepest prayer our kids will ever pray (I hope). But it is preceded by thanks and followed by a meal—and, therefore, it is a eucharistic prayer, an expression of gratitude, preface to a thanksgiving feast.