Godtalk: Thank God


Eucharistia on Flickr, courtesy of Fr Lawrence Lew OP
Image courtesy of Fr Lawrence Lew OP on Flickr

At the Last Supper, Jesus makes himself a sign: he declares that the bread and wine, identified with his body and blood, are a sign of the world-changing events of Good Friday and Easter, and so a sign of the future, of God's future and God's promise.

By identifying himself with the broken bread and the spilled wine, the broken flesh and the shed blood, Jesus says that this death which is approaching is a door into hope. And it is at that moment, when he is looking forward most clearly and vividly to his death, even before the Garden of Gethsemane casts its shadow, that Jesus gives thanks. That is, he connects his experience with the reality of God, because that is what thanksgiving does.

When we say thank you to God we connect our own experience with God as Giver. We say that what has happened to us is somehow rooted in the gift of God. And when Jesus gives thanks at that moment before the breaking and spilling, before the wounds and the blood, it is as if he is connecting the darkest places of human experience with God the Giver; as if he is saying that even in these dark places God continues to give, and therefore we must continue to give thanks. And that is why the word eucharistia, 'thanksgiving', took root and became the earliest and most widespread name for what Christians do when they meet for Holy Communion: they meet to give thanks, even in the heart of the darkest experience.

So as we give thanks over bread and wine in the presence of the Lord we are - with him and in him ­ seeking to make that connection between the world and God, between human  experience and the divine and eternal Giver.   

And this means that we begin to look  differently  at the world around us. If in every corner of experience God the Giver is still at work, then in every object we see and handle, in every situation we encounter, God the Giver is present and our reaction is shaped by this.

That is why to take seriously what is going on in the Holy Eucharist is to take seriously the whole material order of the world. It is to see everything in some sense sacramentally. If Jesus gives thanks over bread and wine on the eve of his death, if Jesus makes that connection between the furthest place away from God, which is suffering and death, and the giving and outpouring of his Father, and if in his person he fuses those things together, then wherever we are some connection between us and God is possible. All places, all people, all things have about them an unexpected sacramental depth. They open on to God the Giver.

And that is why many Christians have found that in reflecting on the Eucharist they begin to see what a Christian attitude to the environment might be. Do we live in the world as if God the Giver were within and behind and in the depths of every moment and every material thing? Well, no, for most of the time we do not.

We live on the surface, we see what suits us and serves our goals - as if, instead of having their own depth and integrity, things are there just for us to exploit and abuse. Reverence for the bread and the wine of the Eucharist is the beginning of reverence for the whole world in which the giving of God's glory is pulsating beneath the surface of every moment.

From ‘Being Christian’ by Rowan Williams, edited

Peter Knott SJ