The Thanksgiving Meal

A message given Sunday, November 19, 2006.
The Reverend Scott Summerville.
Asbury United Methodist Church
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The subject today is food.
It is a timely subject, for obvious reasons.
I would like to ask you a few questions pertaining to food.

Who do you eat with? Or do you generally eat alone?
Who cooks the food that you eat?
What is this shape and size of the table where you have your principal daily meal? Is it square or rectangular, round, large or small?

If you eat with others, is there conversation; is the dinner table a gathering and sharing place, is it a place where things get talked out and decided, or is it a functional place, a place to eat and run?

When your family gets together for a meal is there laughing, yelling, long uncomfortable silences?

With the kind of lifestyle we have these days, we may be having less and less time at the supper table in conversation of any kind. Something sacred gets lost in the age of fast food and eating on the run.

At Thanksgiving the focus is on the table, the family table, not on a tree or gifts but on the table and the family. The Thanksgiving table has special meaning in this time when but there is so much less everyday gathering at the table.

At our family church retreat in October one of the discussion questions with this:

Can you think of a meal from any moment in your life that is especially memorable to you?

I’m going to give you a moment or two to think about that question and to situate yourself in your memory at that very special meal.

Our minds are now ranging over the territory of the past, taking us to places of our childhood perhaps, or taking us to places far away from which some of us came, taking us back into the company of those who may now be gone from us.

Who is there at the table with you at that special meal?
Where is this special meal being served?
Who cooked the meal?
What kind of food is on the table?
Is it a holiday meal or a birthday or anniversary or a wedding or a reunion?

If you take your age and multiply it by a thousand, that is approximately the number of meals you have had in your lifetime. Why does this particular meal stand out?

The memory of a meal can be so vivid that we can even smell the food and taste it again. We can hear the sounds that filled the room, voices, laughter. We can almost touch them again: the relatives, the friends.

On the retreat where we had time to share these stories of our memorable meals, we were able to invite one another into our family homes, into the flavor of life as we have known at its sweetest moments.

When we go back in our memories to those special meals, we get in touch with the longing we have be at the table together with those we love, satisfying the most basic bodily need to be nourished, and satisfying our primal need to be loved and to feel connected.

The most ancient book outside of the books of the new testament that describes the practices of the early Christians is a book entitled the Didache, a book that is probably as old as the Gospel of John.

In the Didache Christians are instructed to come together weekly, and to come specifically to eat and give thanks: “On every Lord’s Day — his special day — come together and break bread and give thanks . . .”

One of the earliest leaders of the Christian Church that we have records of is Justin Martyr Around A.D. 150, he describes what Christians do on their day of worship: “And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting . . . bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president …. sends up prayers and thanksgivings . .

And even before either of these writings are the words of the New Testament itself, where in the Book of Acts we read that the very first Christians in the days after Pentecost came together to eat. Acts chapter two describes what the earliest Christians did. Acts reports that the first Christians shared all things in common; their pattern of worship was the first go to the Temple, then “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47a).

The earliest Christians met weekly for a Thanksgiving meal. Before there were churches, there was communion, Eucharist – the thanksgiving meal shared every week. The church — what was to become the church – grew up around these weekly meals served in people’s homes, where Jesus was remembered in the breaking of the bread.

A few weeks ago in my Sunday message I spoke about a change that has occurred in the United Methodist Church in relation to the Lord’s Supper. It is now the official policies of our church that the norm for weekly worship is Word and Sacrament, that is, that the basic form of United Methodist worship is preaching based on the Scriptures and the celebration of Holy Communion.

Also, our church has reaffirmed its long tradition of open communion.

In our Book of Worship it is written:
“All who intend to lead a Christian life, together with their children, are invited to receive the bread and cup. We have no tradition of refusing any who present themselves desiring to receive. This statement means that in practice there are few, if any, circumstances in which a United Methodist pastor would refuse to serve the elements of Holy Communion to a person who comes forward to receive. ”
Essentially, and United Methodist Church we offer Communion to those who come to receive it. There is no age cutoff, at either end. You can’t be too young or too old.

There is no denominational requirement. Our Communion is not offered to United Methodist only.

There is no standard of worthiness; there is nothing which one can do that would disqualify a person from receiving the sacrament.

When people sometimes feel unworthy to come for communion, they are probably misunderstanding the nature of Communion. In Communion we open ourselves to the grace of God for the healing of our lives, for the feeding of our souls, for strength to be better than we are. We do not make ourselves worthy to receive the Lord’s supper. We are invited to come in whatever condition we find ourselves.

We live in a world of conflict, injustice, and materialism. In Communion we prepare ourselves to live such a world.

In Communion we are asked to look at our own lives; we are reminded to ask whether we are living in love and charity with our neighbor.

Communion is an invitation to peacemaking: when Christ invites us to the table, he invites us to be reconciled to God, to one another and to our neighbor, and then sends us forth to live in a spirit of reconciliation and peace.

Before we scatter this week and head off to wherever we will be for Thanksgiving, it seemed to me a good thing that we break bread and give thanks. It is a good thing to remind ourselves of who we are: we are people of the Eucharist, people who share again and again the meal of Thanksgiving.

There is so much sadness in life, so many things tear at our hearts. It is such a simple and happy thing to accept Jesus’ invitation to be together and to share the bread and the cup in his name.

So, I invite you now to a Thanksgiving meal.

Wherever you may be going to celebrate Thanksgiving in the coming week, go and return in the spirit of this meal:

as one who is loved and as one who loves,

as one who is forgiven and as one who forgives,

as one who is reconciled and as one who seeks reconciliation.

Grace and peace to you.

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