Eucharist means Thanksgiving!

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It’s hardly groundbreaking to observe that the Greek word from which we get eucharist translates into “thanksgiving.” But when one makes a few more parallels there’s quite a nice extended metaphor that’s apropros for this particular holiday.

First, 1 Peter 2:9 calls the Church “a holy nation,” and we’d do well to think of being a Christian as “having our citizenship in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). Rather than consider ourselves American, we should replace national identity with Christian identity. The Church is in many ways a spiritual nation, dispersed among the earthly nations. While Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, a Christian has many similarities to a resident alien in a foreign culture.

  • Loyalty to a different ruler. Christians worship and obey Jesus Christ as King, rather than Caesar.
  • Distinctive cultural values. Rather than preponderant social mores like sexual freedom and self-constituted identity, Christians are often countercultural, valuing family, children, etc. Often this can make us seem backwards and culturally ignorant, just as that foreign family down the street can often fail to sync with the step of the neighborhood.
  • Distinctive dress. Hopefully not just confined to denim skirts, Christians are to appear modest and avoid vanity. If you’re high church, you can add robes.
  • A national history. Laid out in the Holy Scriptures and continuing through the history of the Church. AKA redemptive history + church history.
  • Special holidays. You know the ones. They’re the good ones. Not like stupid Columbus Day.
  • An identity founded in a martial victory over oppressors. Jesus triumphed over the powers of the earth on the cross, defeating death and the Devil. His victory created a community able to dwell in freedom.
  • Distinctive language. Are you aware that there is such a thing as “Christianese?” Your version may be mutually intelligible with English, but your vocabulary and syntax are different.
  • Distinctive meals & meal rituals. Some may think casserole is distinctively Christian, but I’m thinking more along the lines of the bread and wine. Lots of us pray over food or don’t eat certain foods on certain days.
  • Compulsive military service. Yes, the whole armor of God/spiritual warfare thing.

Second, given this equation (Christianity = Nationality) we can draw one important implication and one further parallel. The implication is that dual citizenship is awkward. Most countries don’t like having you as a citizen if you’re actively serving in the army of another country and loyal to another ruler. In fact, that’s often why Catholics have been ostracized politically. So the fact that for so many of us, Christianity can so easily sit alongside the platform of any particular political party, or that many of us see the USA as God’s chosen vessel in the world, ought to give us pause.

The further parallel is the equation (Faith = Patriotism). Let’s take a look at a few of the overlapping elements here.

  • Both are badges of identity serving to distinguish the “nominal” member from the “true” member. Anybody can be born American, but in some sense you can only appropriate your American identity by ascribing to the American idea. Likewise, faith is the dividing line between the visible and invisible Church.
  • Both ultimately boil down to trust and obedience. “My country, right or wrong” is immoral. To be a patriot, you probably have to trust that your country is basically doing the right thing; treason is also frowned upon. Benedict Arnold = not a patriot.
  • Both bleed into the whole of life. Faith and patriotism both entail not just a political stance but an entire lifestyle.
  • Both are only beautiful if they are free. There is a word for compulsory patriotism. It’s called fascism. Patriotism cannot be legislated; it can only be adopted in freedom of conscience. In the same way, faith cannot be forced or encapsulated in rules of observance. Both faith and patriotism are internal, attitudes of the heart.

Okay, so where is this going? We were talking about Thanksgiving. What is Thanksgiving, exactly? For Americans, it’s a unique national holiday based in a providentially arranged, life-saving communal meal. It emphasizes familial togetherness and is centered on gratitude for deliverance. It was celebrated by pilgrims and exiles. We receive it as we give thanks to God for His provision.

So basically Thanksgiving and the Eucharist are pretty similar.

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