A Great Thanksgiving

Photo by Patrick Hoesly

There are so many things to be thankful for on this day.

I’m thankful to be writing this on a deck overlooking the most beautiful beach I know, with my 23 month old son running around me soaking it all in.  I’m thankful for my loving wife and the important work she is doing right now (even when it drives us both crazy).  I’m thankful for my parents and sister and the time I get to spend with them now that I live far away.  I’m thankful that I have two living grandmothers, and I’m thankful that later today one of them will join us and we will have four generations gathered around our Thanksgiving table.

As we gather around that table of thanksgiving, as countless other families will do today, I will be reminded of the communal act of gathering around a table of thanksgiving that is the central practice of our faith.  Eucharist means “thanksgiving” and the central prayer of the rite is known as the Great Thanksgiving.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on Kenda Creasy Dean’s important book, Almost Christian.  I’ve talked about it with our youth ministry committee, two groups of youth leaders, and a group of parents.  One of her points is that a necessary element of faith formation for youth (and adults) is articulating and passing on to others the creed of our community.  More than simply memorizing something like the Apostles’ Creed or reciting a catechism or confession, Dean is suggesting that we need to be able to tell the particular God-story of our faith.

As I have been thinking with others about how we can do a much better job of this in our youth ministry and in the wider church, I keep coming back to the Great Thanksgiving of our communion liturgy as perhaps our greatest resource for sharing the God-story of our faith.  The traditional pattern of the Great Thanksgiving is to recount the biblical story from creation through Christ and then bring that story into the present lives of those sharing the sacred meal.  This story, coupled with the tangible and tactile sharing of the communion elements, is probably the best way of proclaiming and internalizing our foundational creed.

Last week, in an effort to dig deeper into this practice of sharing our God-story through the Great Thanksgiving, I followed the basic pattern and wrote my own prayer.  Those familiar with Iona worship resources will recognize some Wild Goose stuff that has become a regular part of my celebration of communion.  It was a good experience to work through this prayer and think about how I would tell the story.  It is still very traditional, I think, but it represents a first step in using my own words to tell this ancient story.

So, in addition to the many other things for which I am thankful today, I am thankful for the bigger story of God and humanity of which I am a part.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

Invitation to the Table

Friends,
this is the joyful feast of the people of God!

According to the Gospel of Luke,
Jesus walked with two men on the road to Emmaus,
but they did not recognize him.
It was only when he broke bread with them
that they knew who he was.
Faith and understanding
are not prerequisites to eat at this table.

This table is for those with much faith,
and those with little;
those who have been to this table often,
and those who have not been for a long time;
those who have tried their best to follow,
and those who have failed.

So come,
not because we invite you,
but because God invites you.

We welcome those whom God welcomes.

The Great Thanksgiving

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 our thanks and praise.

Great and mysterious God of creation,
we do give you thanks
for the wonders of life,
the beauty of the world we live in,
and the deep and expansive universe
of which we are only a small part.

We thank you
that you have not left us alone in this world.
We are blessed with the community of others;
we experience your presence
in the love we share,
and in mysterious ways beyond our abilities to comprehend or put into words.

We are grateful for the covenants of grace
you have always offered to your people.
In ages past you sent leaders and prophets
to show us your ways and guide our paths.
When we failed you did not reject us;
you are a God of second chances and even more.
You are merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
You accept our repentance
and offer us forgiveness.

When the time was right,
you sent Jesus among us
to demonstrate your love
in new and radical ways.
As we gather around this table to share this meal,
we remember the great extent of his selfless love
and give you thanks in humility and awe.

We add our voices to the chorus of history,
who praise you in various ways,
in a multitude of languages
and a multitude of songs,
forever singing to the glory of your name:

Sing the Sanctus

You are holy, dear God,
and blessed is Jesus Christ,
who came and who comes in your name.
Born into a humble family,
he challenged the kings and rulers of his day.
Submitting himself to baptism and temptation,
he redefined what it means to be holy.
Teaching with wisdom and authority,
he helped us understand you and our world
in new and transforming ways.
Healing those who were broken,
he hinted at the wonders of your new creation.
Eating with outcasts and sinners,
he showed us how to live with others.
Loving you and loving us with his entire being,
he demonstrated what it means
to be created in your image
and to see your reflection in others,
whether they be our friends or our enemies.
Suffering humiliation
at the hands of those in power,
he displayed the true power of weakness.
Rising from the dead,
he proved that noting is beyond the power
of your redemptive love.

Prayers of the People

And so we are bold to come to you in prayer,
naming out loud our joys and our concerns,
our happiness and our fears.

As we come to share the richness of your table,
we cannot forget the rawness of the earth.

We cannot take bread
and forget those who are hungry.

We cannot take this cup
and forget those who are thirsty.

We cannot hear your words of peace
and forget the world at war.

We cannot celebrate a family feast
and forget our divisions.

We cannot gather around this table
and forget those who are suffering.

So hear now, loving God,
the prayers and petitions of our hearts.

(The worship leaders read the prayers of the congregation)

Gracious and loving God,
infuse this sanctuary
with the presence of your Spirit.
Bring us into communion with Christ
as we experience his presence
in this sacred meal.
May these ordinary elements of life,
this bread and this cup,
be transformed by your presence
into the body and blood of Christ,
nourishing us with spiritual food,
and equipping us to be
the body of Christ in the world.

Filled with your Spirit,
may we do justice,
love kindness,
and walk humbly with you,
loving you with our entire beings,
and loving others as ourselves.

God, these are the marks of your kingdom,
which we pray for now as Jesus taught us:

Our Father

Comments

  1. Joshua Patty says:

    Well said, as always, John. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Don Archer says:

    John:
    A beautiful Invitation and Great Thanksgiving. I would like your permission to use it in our Worship Service.

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