Thankful for Thanksgiving.
Our entire lives as God’s sons and daughters are to be lived under the auspices of thanksgiving.
Leave it to Americans to turn the day after a holiday centered around gratitude into one of the biggest shopping days in the calendar year. Black Friday has almost become synonymous with those viral videos of middle-aged parents wrestling like toddlers over moderately discounted toys their Jane or Johnny desperately wants for Christmas. In fact, whenever I picture Black Friday, the first image that pops in my head is that scene from Jingle All the Way when a veritable riot breaks out over a coveted Turbo Man doll. But I’m not here to bemoan or put on blast Black Friday shoppers. Not entirely. The day’s not all bad. I do, however, think there’s something to the notion of leaving behind Thanksgiving for Black Friday, as if as soon as the “day of thanks” is over, we’re free to relish in our covetousness.
Perhaps I’m being too pious about the whole thing. Once upon a time, I ventured out on Black Friday, back when it used to be a thing to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to catch those rad deals. I’ll admit that there is, perhaps, a smidgen of curmudgeonliness that I’m wont to embrace nowadays. But I’ll also say that I don’t think that’s the whole story. I feel in my bones the rapidity at which we go about life. We live in an instant world, one in which Pop Tarts have microwave instructions! Our epistemology is immediacy. We think in terms of quickness and efficiency. It’s not by accident that the most popular social media platforms have all employed their own version of short-form video reels, each of which serves as a microcosm of the American attention span.
And I know, this is sounding more and more like one of those “back in my day” sort of posts. But I don’t mean it to. In fact, I mean to confess my own givenness to this style of expedited living, wherein the slightest moment’s pause is a void which must be filled with something else. I noticed this the other night as Natalie and I were watching re-runs of The Office. As soon as an ad-break came on the screen, I reached for my phone and refreshed my email. That 60-second interlude was too long, I suppose. I needed something to capture me. I needed something to behold. That feeling is the sort of what I think happens in the aggregate on Black Friday.
If Thanksgiving is like watching the Jim and Pam relationship blossom for the umpteenth time, Black Friday is like checking your Twitter notifications during those forsaken commercial breaks. We, seemingly, cannot deal with interruptions in our quests for constant, instant gratification. Which is why I wish holidays like Thanksgiving were more like week-long festivals, rather than hour-long feasts. Indeed, the heart of Thanksgiving is what I wish would live on long after the tryptophan has done its thing. And what is the heart of Thanksgiving?
Well, I think it’s best summed in a word that’s almost impermissible in some church circles. The word “eucharist” isn’t one that often rolls off the tongue in my particular denomination. In fact, if I were to use it in any public setting, it’d mostly be associated with the baroque liturgies of the Catholic mass. Therefore, notwithstanding what I mean behind it, when I say the word “eucharist,” I invoke the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church. I admit that, but I’d also like to change that, to a certain degree — not because I’m beholden to the word “eucharist,” but because it’s a word whose deep significance ought to enthrall us. Indeed, I’ll go one step further and say that the life of every Christian ought to be eucharistic.
St. Paul confesses in the opening chapter of Philippians that he gives thanks unto God every time the Philippian church is brought to his mind. “ I thank my God,” he writes, “upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3–5). The Greek word for “thanks” in verse 3 is eucharisteō, which literally means “to be grateful” or “to express gratitude.” It’s a word which conveys an ongoing action, that is, a continuous thanksgiving. For Paul, this was on account of the tremendous ministry the Philippians had rendered to him in his time of need. Their faithful fellowship in the gospel was, indeed, worthy of being commended and celebrated. But, even more significant is what Paul demonstrates throughout the rest of that chapter — namely, that the entire life of faith is one long eucharist.
He gives thanks despite delays in verse 12, when he proclaims that his imprisonment hasn’t impeded the advance of the gospel, but, instead, has “fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” Even when his prearranged itinerary was modified to include a shackled sabbatical, Paul was giving thanks to his Lord. He further says that he can give thanks despite diversions in verse 18, when he alludes to the ongoing proclamation of the gospel that was happening in that region, both by good-willed and ill-willed preachers (Phil. 1:15–17). Even though those contentious preachers meant to do Paul harm, he rejoiced, because Christ was preached. And, to cap it all off, he gives thanks despite death, which was surely awaiting him, knowing that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). No matter what was thrown at Paul, he gave thanks to his Lord and Savior, who does all things well.
I won’t pretend that I’ve absorbed all of the apostle’s words in a way which has led to uninterrupted thanksgiving. I articulate such things, such truths, precisely because I’m a sinner who forgets, who needs to be reminded of how much I do have for which I can be thankful. That’s essentially what the eucharist is: a space for holy remembrance. “The activity of memory produces the renewal of feeling, the reawakening of thanksgiving,” comments G. Campbell Morgan (291). Such is what happens every time you approach the Lord’s Table. You’re being reminded of your Lord’s broken body and shed blood, through the bread and the cup, through which and because of which you are given the remission of all your sin. Such is the new covenant enacted in the cruciform death of God’s own Son (Luke 22:19–20). But just like those warm Thanksgiving feelings shouldn’t be relegated to every fourth Thursday of November, so, too, should our grateful memories not be relegated to merely those Sundays in which we are served Communion.
“The Christian heart,” writes Orthodox minister Stephen Freeman, “is manifest most prominently in the giving of thanks.” This is the church’s central act of worship. Churchgoers assemble on Sundays to worship a God to whom all thanks and praise is due (Ps. 7:17; 50:14; 69:30; 100:1–5; 107:1). But the same is true for every morning, not just Lord’s day mornings. “The more we realize that everything in life is a gift,” Brennan Manning says, “the tenor of our lives becomes one of humble and joyful thanksgiving” (80). Paul’s was a eucharistic life filled with eucharistic faith, one in which gratefulness was the operative framework through which life’s predicaments were managed. Christ’s gospel furnishes you and I with the grace to confess the same.
“The giving of thanks is not a moral activity,” Stephen Freeman writes elsewhere, “it is a mode of existence.” Gospel living is grateful living. The entire life of a believer is one of perpetual thanksgiving for what’s been done. Such is the fuel of faith. Our entire lives as God’s sons and daughters are to be lived under the auspices of the eucharist, under the umbrella of all that’s been accomplished for us by God in Christ. “Your whole life,” writes 19th century churchman Octavius Winslow, “ought to be a sweetly-tuned psalm, a continual anthem of thanksgiving and praise, pouring forth its swelling notes to the God of your salvation” (20). Such, then, is the life of faith: one long, continuous eucharist. May we be given the grace to slow down in the days ahead to live lives of ongoing thanksgiving.
Grace and peace and thanks, my friends.
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2000).
G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1927).
Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991), .