Giving Thanks at the Table

a communion meditation shared at Christ Community Church on Oct 25, 2020

I’ve missed hosting meals during the pandemic, and I’m really looking forward to the Thanksgiving holiday. I love planning the menu, decorating the mantle, and setting the table in advance of my guests’ arrival. I invite the people I love the most, make the foods they love the most, and set a place for everyone who was invited.

Certainly, every Thanksgiving dinner celebration is different. There are regional differences in the menu, long standing traditions about table settings, and family preferences of watching football or running the Turkey trot. Whether your family is a Turkey and dressing family, a ham and sweet potatoes family, or even a popcorn and toast, Charlie Brown family, we want our focus to be on the people around the table and our gratitude for the host, and not on the food we share.

The same might be said of communion where traditions vary across the country. Depending on your denomination, you might remember passing silver trays of individual cups or walking to the front of a sanctuary to dip bread into a common cup. When we moved here from TN, our small group gave us this chalice and plate, a reminder of the ones we used there. In our COVID reality, we use individually wrapped cups and sit 6 feet apart. Those at home might use saltine crackers or cheese-its.

But no matter the tradition, we want our focus to be not on the food we share, but on the people around the table and our gratitude for the host. Our host is Jesus. Our union at this table is because of Jesus, the bread of Life, and not because of the type of bread we might choose.

Our communion celebration is based on a past event, when Jesus invited his disciples to eat a final Passover meal with him. A meal he invited even Judas to share. When we picture the people around our Thanksgiving table, we think of those who are dearest to us. But where Jesus is the host, we look around the table and see people who are different than us. People who may dress differently, speak differently, vote differently. When Jesus is the host, the people around the table matter to us, too.

All are invited. All are welcome.

Our communion celebration is also centered on gratitude. Each time the story is told in scripture, Jesus doesn’t offer the bread and the wine until “after he had given thanks.” You may have heard the word Eucharist used to describe communion which comes from the Greek for “giving thanks.” When we take communion together, we first give thanks to the one who is our host. To the one whose death and deliverance we remember.

Who are the people around your table? If you think of your Thanksgiving meal, maybe, like me, you’ll sadly think of empty chairs. Just 4 years ago, I had thanksgiving with my parents. Two years ago, our granddaughter Isla sat next to me. Those chairs will be empty this year, and while we still celebrate, our hearts will be as broken as the bread.

What we celebrate today is only a shadow of the beautiful gathering awaiting us when Jesus returns, when all his followers will feast at the wedding supper of the lamb. The God who invites us to that feast will look around at the empty seats with a broken heart. But today, the invitation stands. And all are welcome.