Bart was a priest I knew thirty years ago, when I was still in seminary and needing a mentor. Shortly after he agreed to be in this mentoring relationship with me, he revealed that he was being tested for a disease that robbed him of muscle control. At the same time, it seemed to be scrambling his brain and messing with various other bodily functions. One of the possible diagnoses was Alzheimer’s Disease. I asked him how he was praying for himself and – by extension – how I could pray for him. He said his prayer was, “God grant me a eucharistic heart. The word is Greek for great thanksgiving. It is the name we Anglicans give the Lord’s Supper – the Holy Communion.”
Thanksgiving is not everything; it can be saccharine and sentimental if we just blandly and uncritically say thanks for everything, as though there were nothing we might beg a loving God to change in our circumstances. But if we understand – as I do – that communion with our Lord Jesus is the core and context of our acts of worship, the name begins to make sense. As I understand worship, this context begins with praising God – and thanking Him for the opportunity. It continues with hearing and commenting on His Word in Scripture – and thanking Him for the enlightenment and the marching orders He brings. We acknowledge the shape of our faith in the words of the ancient creedal summary – and thank Him for giving a dependable shape to our belief. We pray for those in need of healing, shelter, peace, and deliverance from evil – and thank Him for loving them more than we can. And we thankfully celebrate the reality of His death and resurrection for the sake of our larger life; all this as we thankfully hail his sovereignty and protection over us while standing invisibly in our midst. From inside the whole process of worship, this eucharistic heart broadens our awareness and expands our vision of opportunities in the context of this lifestyle of thanksgiving. It is not a different viewpoint so much as it is a larger, more wholistic, and eagle-eyed perspective.
I would love to say Bart was miraculously healed of his medical condition, but that did not happen. He was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and he gave thanks it was not Alzheimer’s. That was miracle enough for him, and the peace of God was quite visible all over him the last time I saw him.
When the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving in the New World, they were starving and riddled with disease. The Native Americans who befriended them and joined their celebration were doing only marginally better. But these Pilgrims and their indigenous friends chose to believe the message of Romans 8:28, that God works all things together – ultimately – for good in those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. They asked for and received a Eucharistic heart. Such a heart enabled them to be more conscious of what gifts they were given than of what needs had not yet been answered. It gave them both joy and a reason for that joy.
A story is told of a country parson in the UK who ran out of petrol while out calling on members of his flock. He knocked on the door of a church member’s home just up the road, and the family offered him as much petrol as he could carry from the tank in their garden. They added – regretfully – that the only container they had was a chamber pot. The parson answered that he was thankful for whatever he got – being assured this was God’s gift, and God’s gift is always precisely what he needs. As he lugged the pot back to his car and began pouring the contents into the petrol tank, a motorist drove by on the other side of the road and exclaimed, “Oh, if I only had faith like that!” That faith was indeed what he needed, but not what he thought.
The faith displayed by the parson was not an unshakable conviction that God can transform human waste into motor fuel; of course He can, and of course He wasn’t. The faith was as the parson said – that whatever we receive from God is precisely what we need for God’s good purposes to unfold in our lives, when we receive it. Developing a eucharistic heart is the work of a lifetime. It is the work that – from our end – enables a life to be lived well.
May readers enjoy a Thanksgiving as memorable as it is blessed.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships and The Holy Spirit and the End Times – available at local bookstores or by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org