For this service’s bulletin, click here: Thanksgiving Eve 2011 bulletin
The celebration of Thanksgiving is sadly straying from its roots in our culture, although those root were not always so firm – see this for some history. As Christians, we want to give thanks every day, but especially on this day. It’s a convenient reminder for us to do what we should anyway, and what we do spontaneously many times as a fruit of our faith.
Many don’t realize that celebrating the Lord’s Supper is itself an expression of thanksgiving. Lutherans tend not to use the word Eucharist, in fact can almost seem allergic to it at times, but that’s what it is: a giving of thanks. (Eucharist means giving thanks, if you didn’t know that.) I talk about that right at the end of the sermon. If you’re curious where I got that idea of a sacrifice of praise being part of the Lord’s Supper, here’s the section from the Apology (Defense) of the Augsburg Confession, article XXIV, on the Mass (i.e. the worship service with Holy Communion.) I inserted it below for your convenience. It comes first of all from Holy Scripture, but Philip Melancthon in the Apology picks up on it and teaches correctly about it. It’s actually a very fascinating section.
May our generous God give you plenty to be thankful for, and opportunity to praise His holy name. A blessed Thanksgiving to you all.
Of the Use of the Sacrament, and of Sacrifice.
68]Some clever men imagine that the Lord’s Supper was instituted for two reasons. First, that it might be a mark and testimony of profession, just as a particular shape of hood is the sign of a particular profession. Then they think that such a mark was especially pleasing to Christ, namely, a feast to signify mutual union and friendship among Christians, because banquets are signs of covenant and friendship. But this is a secular view; neither does it show the chief use of the things delivered by God; it speaks only of the exercise of love, which men, however profane and worldly, understand; it does not speak of faith, the nature of which few understand.
69] The Sacraments are signs of God’s will toward us, and not merely signs of men among each other; and they are right in defining that Sacraments in the New Testament are signs of grace. And because in a sacrament there are two things, a sign and the Word, the Word, in the New Testament, is the promise of grace added. The promise of the New Testament is the promise of the remission of sins, as the text, Luke 22:19, says: This is My body, which is given for you. This cup is the New Testament in My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 70] Therefore the Word offers the remission of sins. And a ceremony is, as it were, a picture or seal, as Paul, Rom. 4:11, calls it, of the Word, making known the promise. Therefore, just as the promise is useless unless it is received by faith, so a ceremony is useless unless such faith is added as is truly confident that the remission of sins is here offered. And this faith encourages contrite minds. And just as the Word has been given in order to excite this faith, so the Sacrament has been instituted in order that the outward appearance meeting the eyes might move the heart to believe [and strengthen faith]. For through these, namely, through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Ghost works.
71] And such use of the Sacrament, in which faith quickens terrified hearts, is a service of the New Testament, because the New Testament requires spiritual dispositions, mortification and quickening. [For according to the New Testament the highest service of God is rendered inwardly in the heart.] And for this use Christ instituted it, since He commanded them thus to do in remembrance of Him. 72] For to remember Christ is not the idle celebration of a show [not something that is accomplished only by some gestures and actions], or one instituted for the sake of example, as the memory of Hercules or Ulysses is celebrated in tragedies, but it is to remember the benefits of Christ and receive them by faith, so as to be quickened by them. Psalm 111:4-5 accordingly says: He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He hath given meat unto them that fear Him. For it signifies that the will and mercy of God should be discerned in the 73]ceremony. But that faith which apprehends mercy quickens. And this is the principal use of the Sacrament, in which it is apparent who are fit for the Sacrament, namely, terrified consciences, and how they ought to use it.
74]The sacrifice [thank-offering or thanksgiving] also is added. For there are several ends for one object. After conscience encouraged by faith has perceived from what terrors it is freed, then indeed it fervently gives thanks for the benefit and passion of Christ, and uses the ceremony itself to the praise of God, in order by this obedience to show its gratitude; and testifies that it holds in high esteem the gifts of God. Thus the ceremony becomes a sacrifice of praise.
75] And the Fathers, indeed, speak of a two-fold effect, of the comfort of consciences, and of thanksgiving, or praise. The former of these effects pertains to the nature [the right use] of the Sacrament; the latter pertains to the sacrifice. Of consolation Ambrose says: Go to Him and be absolved, because He is the remission of sins. Do you ask who He is? Hear Him when He says, John 6:35: I am the Bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on He shall never thirst. This passage testifies that in the Sacrament the remission of sins is offered; it also testifies that this ought to be received by faith. Infinite testimonies to this effect are found in the Fathers, all of which the adversaries pervert to the opus operatum, and to a work to be applied on behalf of others; although the Fathers clearly require faith, and speak of the consolation belonging to every one, and not of the application.
76] Besides these, expressions are also found concerning thanksgiving, such as that most beautifully said by Cyprian concerning those communing in a godly way. Piety, says he, in thanking the Bestower of such abundant blessing, makes a distinction between what has been given and what has been forgiven, i.e., piety regards both what has been given and what has been forgiven, i.e., it compares the greatness of God’s blessings and the greatness of our evils, sin and death, with each other, and gives thanks, etc. And hence the term eucharist arose in the Church. 77] Nor indeed is the ceremony itself, the giving of thanks ex opere operato, to be applied on behalf of others, in order to merit for them the remission of sins, etc., in order to liberate the souls of the dead. These things conflict with the righteousness of faith; as though, without faith, a ceremony can profit either the one performing it or others.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He shows us His mercy.
— Ps 123.2 (niv84)
Thanksgiving seems to have become the forgotten holiday. It’s been steamrolled by the Christmas money machine, its real purpose shunted aside and forgotten. For many it’s reduced to a day off from work, a gigantic meal, and some football on the TV. A lot of people forget to be thankful. They think that everything they have comes from themselves, their own good fortune and hard work, end of story. They forget that everything they have is a gift from God. They don’t remember how they rely on Him.
We Christians don’t have that problem, do we? I mean, look at us – here we are in church, giving thanks like we’re supposed to. And Thanksgiving isn’t the only time we think about relying on God. Whenever we get into a jam or we run into hard times financially, that’s when we learn to pray hard. We can remember in a hurry how to rely on God for everything when all other sources of help seem to be drying up. We not only look to Him for help, we’re thankful when He gives it to us, too. I’m sure most of us pray and thank God before we eat. Whenever we get an unexpected bonus at work, or someone gives us a gift we hadn’t counted on, or we don’t have to pay a bill that we thought we’d have to, we’re thankful. It’s natural. It’s what we do. We thank God for what He does for us. He’s the One we look to for help.
We even express our reliance on God every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But sometimes I wonder if we pray that petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” as if it’s the only one – if we don’t look only for God to supply our physical needs and then we stop looking for His blessings. Are we very concerned to ask for blessings only for our physical lives now – good health, safety, freedom from want – and then do we lose interest in the rest of the good gifts God gives?
We might almost be excused – almost – for focusing only on those physical blessings. We’ve got a lot of them! God has poured out on us so much that we can’t keep track of it all. Sometimes we have so much food that some of it goes bad before we can eat it all. We have more clothes than we can possibly wear. We can go places and do things that even our grandparents’ generation would never have dreamed about. What we can afford to spend on education or health care or even entertainment would boggle the minds of 90% of the world’s population. And I don’t say this to make us feel guilty for how much we have, it’s just to recognize the fact: God has richly blessed us! Our lives are pretty comfortable and that’s something to thank God for.
But we don’t want to use up all our thankfulness just on our physical blessings. Let’s go on and thank God for just a few of His other blessings to us. We have His Word, which makes our faith eternally and divinely sure. There’s a whole world of people out there who are searching around desperately for the answers to life’s big questions – what happens to me when I die, how do I get to heaven, why am I, who am I ultimately responsible to – and we know the answers to all those questions! God has told us. And when you have God’s Word, you have everything: forgiveness of your sins; the sure promises of God; joy and gladness that does not depend on anything you do or anything that happens to you; certainty for your faith, a firm anchor for your soul; peace that the world cannot give because God’s peace is based on what the Son of God has done for you in His dying and His rising. When you have God’s Word, you have everything, because that’s how God supplies His gifts and His grace to us. God’s Word created the world, and it sustains it still and keeps it going. He does the same for you too.
Jesus promises to hear your prayers, every one, and answer them – not for your sake, because none of us is worthy to approach God on our own, but for His own, perfect sake! He says you can ask Him for anything, and He will do it. That’s better than a magic wand! Jesus has all power in heaven and earth, and He comes to you in His Word and asks you, “What do you want Me to give you?”, and then He waits for you to answer! How amazing is that?
Jesus gives us His holy body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar to assure us over and over again that our flesh won’t win, even though our flesh leads us to sin against Him time and again. He gives Himself to us to assure us that the devil won’t win, and all his rage and all his traps will amount to nothing because our Lord Jesus has defeated him and broken His power forever. He gives Himself to us to assure us that death won’t win, and because He lives, we too shall live. He gives us His holy body and blood to assure us that fear and doubt and sickness and pain and sorrow will not win, ever, because He is the eternal God. His victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell is our victory. When you eat His body and drink His blood, you are strengthened and encouraged to keep looking to the Lord our God for everything, even though the world tries its hardest to distract you and intimidate you.
The Lord’s Supper is a very appropriate thing to celebrate on Thanksgiving Eve, because that’s what the Lord’s Supper is: it’s thanksgiving. Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes: that Jesus loved you enough to die for you, and that His death forgives your sins and gives you eternal life. Whenever you come to the Lord’s Supper, you’re saying with your actions and in your heart, “Lord Jesus, thank You for loving me enough to be betrayed, suffer, and die for me. Thank You for forgiving my sins just as You promise, every time I take this sacrament. Thank You for holding me close to You and never letting me go, even when I wander and stray. Thank You that Your Word is true, I am forgiven, and I am saved.” That’s the best offering to God: to be thankful for everything He’s given us. Let’s offer God an offering of praise this Thanksgiving, along with giving thanks for everything He’s done for us. Amen.