Friday Essay: The (Real) First Thanksgiving

This is a re-edited version of a post on my first blog.
Next Thursday, Americans will be eating a feast of ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and, of course, turkey. Thanksgiving is a great holiday that I personally enjoy (with all that good eating who wouldn’t?) and while I don’t admire everything about the Separatists, I still love Thanksgiving. But did you know this was not the first Thanksgiving meal in history?
No, I’m not going to talk about the Jamestown thanksgiving (December 4th) or even the Spanish one (April 31). This Thanksgiving meal is the greatest of them all and the oldest of them all- and one meant for all mankind to celebrate.
This Thanksgiving is very different from the other thanksgivings I mentioned. The pilgrims ate the fruits of their harvest and hunting, the Jamestown settlers actually fasted (which I venture to suggest is why we don’t commemorate it today) and the Spanish….well I like to think they ate barbecue for the first time but I haven’t clue. However, the very first Thanksgiving is a simple meal of bread and wine.
The Plymouth Thanksgiving was a celebration of God’s bounty and deliverance from starvation – good gifts to celebrate. The Jamestown settlers gave thanks for their safe journey, as did the Spaniards.  Again, good gifts and deserving of gratitude. But this first Thanksgiving was not about a harvest or a journey. It was about redemption.

It was far into the evening. In a little second-floor room in Jerusalem, a Jewish rabbi and His disciples were celebrating a great holiday- the Passover. This Rabbi, however, wasn’t an ordinary Jew, or for that matter an ordinary man. He was the promised Messiah, the Christ, God the Son incarnate in human flesh. He had come to redeem His creation and His people, and to begin His Kingdom. But first He must die a horrid death by crucifixion, the worst form of execution in the Roman world. Although He himself had done no wrong (indeed, he was sinless), the weight of man’s depravity would fall on Him the next day. Yet death would not be the end of the story, for in three days He would rise again.

But I’m getting ahead here. That night, as they were eating, the Rabbi took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples. He said the strangest thing while doing this: “Take, eat- this is My body.”
Then He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and then gave it to them. Again, He spoke saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
I’m sure most if not all of you recognize by this point the story I’m telling you. It’s the story of the Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with His disciples. I’m also pretty sure most if not all of you are confused. How is this the first Thanksgiving?
Well, let’s start by examining how the early church (meaning first through the third century) celebrated Communion. First off, a lot different than we do. We sit quietly and think about how bad we are. They came together in fellowship around the table and rejoiced in the triumph of Christ. They understood Paul’s reminder that we “proclaim the Lord’s death” to mean we announce His victory over death and sin. They celebrated in remembrance of Christ as the King, the one who has given us life. In short, for them, Communion was a time of thanksgiving- so much so they called it “Eucharist” which means quite literally “thanksgiving”. It is a covenant feast, an earthly picture of the heavenly Marriage Super of the Lamb.
When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we give thanks. What do we give thanks for?  for deliverance from sin, for our Lord’s triumph over death and darkness, and for the new life we have if we are His people.
I believe celebrating the Sacrament of the Eucharist should be a weekly practice in every Christian Church but sadly it is not. I understand not everyone agrees, and I must accept that. But at any rate, the next time you partake of communion remember, you are celebrating the first Thanksgiving.
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