25 Nov 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Bible, in the Old Testament in particular, thanksgiving is always tied to remembrance. The chief narrative of the Old Testament is the Exodus. And the chief character of the people is that they forgot what God had done for them. They longed, foolishly, for the cucumbers and onions of Egyptian slavery. Thus in today’s reading in Deuteronomy they are bid explicitly to not forget the Lord who brought them out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led them through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, to not forget but remember the Lord who brought them water out of the flinty rock and who fed them in the wilderness with manna.
Deuteronomy is the end of Moses, his fifth and final book. It is his last word. He re-gives the whole Law. That is what the title of the book means. Deuteronomy is the Greek title meaning “Second Law.” He is giving this to them because he is about to die in the wilderness along with the rebellious, forgetful people that he had led out of Egypt. The whole 40 year wandering was the consequence of their forgetting who God is. They were unwilling to go into a land flowing with milk and honey, where bunches of grapes had to be carried on poles, because the land seemed to be occupied and they didn’t trust God to actually give it to them. As preposterous as it sounds, they forgot that God had defeated Pharaoh and his army, that He had opened the sea, and had been providing for them all along. It is not quite that they didn’t know it happened, but they somehow let their flesh take over and forgot that He actually loved them and was trustworthy. So the generation passes and Moses, for his anger, passes with them. But before he does he re-gives the law. This is grandpa telling his grandchildren: don’t make the same mistakes we did. Don’t forget the Lord, your God.
Grandchildren rarely take those lessons to heart. The history of Israel is a history of forgetting. Even as a Pharaoh arose in Egypt who did not know Joseph, so did children of God rise up in Israel who did not know God. Thus does God send the prophets, again and again, with the same message: “Remember the God of your fathers, who brought you out of slavery, who gave you this land, who promises to send the Messiah.” And some of them repent. They remember with tears of sorrow and regret, and they remember with tears of joy at the reunion and reconciliation. They are glad to be brought back into the family. Thus the grandchildren become grandparents and repeat the lessons of Moses to their own grandchildren and on it goes.
There is one, however, who did not forget, not even for a moment, one whose blessed mother never had to nag Him to send thank you notes. He gave thanks before feeding the four and then the five thousand in the wilderness with bread they did not earn and could not buy. He gave thanks also when He broke the bread and gave it to His disciples in the upper room saying: “This is My Body.” Those thanksgivings were not empty rituals, thank you notes sent to appease the mother-in-law. They were more than polite gestures and manners. They grew out of the Lord’s piety and love for His Father. He remembered. He did not forget. He remembered and He proclaimed His Father’s goodness in giving His Life for the life of the world.
The feedings in the wilderness were closely tied to the manna from heaven. God feeds ungrateful, forgetful, grumbling people. Some got bit by snakes and died. Some rebelled with Korah and the earth swallowed them up. But no one starved. They were provided for and that with more than they needed. So the Lord Incarnate likewise fed ungrateful, forgetful people who wanted to seize Him and make Him their bread king. In so doing He remembered and proclaimed the goodness of the God who feeds the lilies and the sparrows and the people of the earth – even though they don’t deserve it or even necessarily recognize it.
The breaking of the bread in the Upper room was closely tied to the Passover. That was the context for it. The Lord was remembering and proclaiming how the lamb’s blood has spared them from the angel of death and begun the liberation that allowed them to walk out of Egypt and through the Red Sea the next day. What was a plague to Hell was a victory and feast to God’s people. That is why the Lord adds His Blood to the bread in the Upper Room. Without the shedding of Blood there is no forgiveness. His Blood doesn’t mark doorposts of houses, but marks and cleanses hearts. It protects souls from the angel of death. His Body is Manna, sustenance for the journey, the staff of eternal life. His Blood is protection and purification. That is why, I suspect, the Verba proclaim for the Blood that it is shed for the forgiveness of sins where He doesn’t make the same claim for the Body.
In any case, we are to do this, eat His Body and drink His Blood. They aren’t really two things, but one. That eating and drinking is a remembrance, a proclamation, and a thanksgiving of His death. In that eating and drinking we are made one with Him, purged of our sins, and are strengthened for the journey. That is why we sometimes call the Sacrament the Eucharist which is the Greek word for Thanksgiving because Jesus instituted it in Thanksgiving and we receive it in Thanksgiving.
It is fitting then that we heed the advice of Grandpa Moses, that we not forget who God is and who we are in Him. Before we gather around our hearths for a feast, remembering the many blessings we have in this life by the grace of God, celebrating family and country, enjoying the bounty of the harvest, remembering that we are in no way self-sufficient pioneers who have accomplished great things, but that we are the beneficiaries and recipients of grace who eat what they did not earn. We could be poorer. We could be less healthy. We could have even fewer loved ones. But for the most part, we were simply born in a convenient place. Before that, however, before we give thanks to God for all that we first gather around the Lord’s Altar. We remember that He has brought us out of slavery to sin by His death on the cross, that in richness or poverty, in times of adversity as well as prosperity, in the desert and in the garden, He, who is risen from the dead, is our Life. He intercedes for us before His Father in heaven, advocating, mediating, redeeming, and He indeed still bestows upon us countless gifts of love – chief of which in this dying life is the Sacrament of Thanksgiving wherein He forgives our sins and makes us His. That is worth remembering and proclaiming.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.