One of my grandmothers once taught that “unique” doesn’t take the modifier “very.” A thing cannot be “very unique.” It’s either unique (singular) or isn’t. I doubt most Thanksgiving meals will be unique today, but one historic meal was truly, spiritually unique. And I’m not talking about Pilgrims and Indians here.
Once, the Savior of the world took bread and wine—and gave both of those substances new, albeit historically connected, symbolisms. I’ve come to understand that, in Hebrew tradition, one “blesses God” at mealtimes and other times, rather than asking for a blessing. It seems likely that Jesus would have been acting in line with that tradition at His last meal with his closest associates.
Paul’s recounting of that unique meal goes something like this:
23 So, I obtained from the Lord’s hand the same thing I subsequently handed on to you—that our own Lord Jesus, on the night when he began to be turned over, 24 broke bread in his hands, giving thanks and commenting like this:
“Notice this bread. See it as the representation of my body, given on your behalf.
Eat it, and in doing so, you’ll be calling me into remembrance .”
25 Similarly also he offered the cup after dining, and he expressed this message:
“Now, notice this cup. Its contents are, in effect, the signature on my new, final ‘last will and testament.’
Drink it, and each and every time you do, you’ll be calling into remembrance my body and blood.”
26 The upshot is that, each and every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you will in effect be broadly declaring the symbolic meaning of the Lord’s death, in anticipation of his coming.
1Cor 11:23-26 paraphrase by Brian Casey, Fall 2015
Soon I’ll plan to share some detailed commentary and insights gained during the process of my wrestling with the above text. There is so much here! Mnemonic phrases, alliteration, emphatic forms, theologically significant metonymy, and thematic ties to other messages in 1Corinthians—all these and more help Paul to achieve his communicative aims.
For today, we might consider that a human can bless God. This phrasing seems strange to us English-speakers, since the word “bless” has come to mean something that the greater does for the lesser. Yet Jesus himself, in human form, blessed God: in the more Jewish context of Matthew 26, the word at the final dinner is eulogeo (roughly, “good words,” from which later sprang our word “eulogy”).
In 1Corinthians, Paul’s word is eucharisteo (roughly “give thanks,” from which the transliteration “eucharist” was later derived, in what seems to me a linguistically unusual, but surely not unique, chain of events). On the occasion depicted in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and 1Corinthians 11, the bread received in gratitude was coming to symbolize Jesus’ own striped, broken flesh. That was and is something that merits lavish thankfulness. To speak good words of thanks is to bless God.
On this day, it would not be inappropriate to remember Jesus’ offering of Himself as we both bless God and thank Him for blessings.
B. Casey, 11/26/15