There are many words today that are used to describe the Lord’s Supper. However, if we take a historical survey, we would note that the church fathers and the early Reformed theologians often called this sacrament the Eucharist – that is, the thanksgiving. We call the Lord’s Supper the Eucharist because in it, we give thanks to God for His abundant lovingkindness.
The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of praise and thanksgiving. One of the principle functions of the Lord’s Supper is that it moves our hearts to adore and praise our glorious God. The Eucharist moves us to render thanksgiving to God for His infinite kindness. It helps us recognize the grace which God has so generously poured out on us. It refreshes our memory of all that God has done for us and leads us to magnify before others His mighty acts of salvation. In all this, there is a mutual edification as all of us together give thanks to God for His love and grace toward us. The Lord’s Supper keeps us from sinking into ingratitude, not permitting us to forget the good which our Lord Jesus has done in dying for us. We are here led to render thanksgiving as a public profession of our devotion to our Savior.
The biblical concept of thanksgiving is more than a mere appreciation of God’s goodness. The Hebrew word yadah means to give thanks, but it also means to witness or to confess. In other words, thanksgiving was a matter of recounting the story of how God had delivered one in a time of need. Within the context of Old Testament worship, telling this story of salvation and deliverance was a testimony or witness before the congregation as well as before the world. This witness both glorified God and edified our neighbor. This is seen most clearly in the Psalms which speak of God’s deliverance of Israel (cf. Psalm 136). These psalms recognize that God has heard the cry of His people, saved them when they were in need, and is now entitled to their devotion. These motifs are clearly seen in Psalm 138:
I will give You thanks with all my heart;
I will sing praises to You before the gods.
I will bow down toward Your holy temple
And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name.
On the day I called, You answered me;
You made me bold with strength in my soul.
All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O Lord,
When they have heard the words of Your mouth.
And they will sing of the ways of the Lord,
For great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is exalted,
Yet He regards the lowly,
But the haughty He knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me;
You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
And Your right hand will save me.
The Lord will accomplish what concerns me;
Your lovingkindness, O Lord, is everlasting;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
If we apply this concept to the Lord’s Supper, then we should conclude that a true celebration of this sacrament should recount the history of salvation subjectively and objectively. Subjectively, it should recall how God brought us from sin to salvation. Objectively, it should recall the sacrifice of Christ, His victory over death, and His reign in heaven. It is when we are mindful of these things that we are moved to dedicate ourselves to God’s service.
The nature of Christ’s sacrifice also leads us to adore Christ as offered in the Supper. Because Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice on the cross once and for all for sin (cf. 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 7:27), we may now offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. According to Calvin, this type of sacrifice
consists in veneration and worship of God, which believers owe and render to Him, … It is given to God only by those who, laden with innumerable benefits from Him, pay back to Him their whole selves and all their acts. Institutes of the Christian Religion IV, xviii, 13
The Eucharist clearly testifies to us that we do not have to win God’s favor; rather, we have received God’s favor and we receive the Lord’s Supper in grateful recognition of His love. We love Him because He first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:19).
As we take the Lord’s Supper, I would encourage us to meditate upon God’s work of redemption and salvation. Let us consider the life that He lived and the death that He died for us and for our salvation. Let us consider our state when we were dead in our sins and how our lives have been transformed by the gospel. Let us consider that He sought us while we were still sinners. It was Christ who redeemed our lives from the pit (cf. Psalm 103:4). May our love and gratitude for Christ deepen as we consider the great salvation that He has wrought.