Grace and Gratitude

May 15, 2019 by Joe Small

The Christian life is shaped by gratitude – gratitude for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. It is by God's grace that we receive the gift of our own lives, and so we are called to shape the whole of our lives by our grateful response. “The stewardship of all of life” is a common phrase, yet too often stewardship is reduced to an annual program, the annual program is reduced to the means to achieve an end, and the end is reduced to the church budget. “Gratitude for all of life” may be a way to broaden and deepen our understanding and our use of the gifts God has given us.

Presbyterians used to call the sacrament “Communion,” or if we were high church, “Holy Communion.” Then some of us began calling it “The Lord's Supper.” Now many of us use the ecumenically preferred “Eucharist.” Where does that come from?

Eucharist is simply the English transliteration of the Greek eucharistia, which means “gratitude, thankfulness, thanksgiving.” The early church used eucharistia as the recognizable term for the sacrament: “Regarding the Eucharist. Give thanks as follows …” and “Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized …” (The Didache); “This food we call Eucharist … for we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink” (Justin Martyr). The use of Eucharistia may derive from the earliest tradition in the church related to Paul: “For I was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks (eucharistesas) he broke it and said, “This is my body which is for you …” (1 Cor. 11:23,24). From the outset, Christians have celebrated Eucharist on the Lord's Day, Sunday (not on Thursday night) because the betrayed and crucified Jesus is now the resurrected, living Lord: “When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, and their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Lk 24:30,31). Thanksgiving for all of God's mercies is the primary act of the people of God. Thus, the Eucharistic prayer is the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, beginning with:

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

The prayer continues by giving thanks for God's work in creation, providence, and covenant history, and for the ultimate gift of Christ, followed by the singing or speaking of the Sanctus:

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,

God of power and might,

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

The prayer continues with thanksgiving for the Word made flesh, for the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for the gift of the sacrament, followed by the acclamation:

Christ has died,

Christ is risen,

Christ will come again.

And then, calling on the Holy Spirit, we pray to be made one with Christ and with all God's people, to live faithfully as Christ's body in ministry to the world in anticipation of God's coming Kingdom. We conclude with the Lord's Prayer.

The Eucharistic Prayer is the offering of our Thanksgiving. Gratitude follows grace!

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