On suffering, and thanks

Once a month, our family takes communion at the kid-friendly service at our church. The two oldest of our four children, who are six and four years old, ask regularly if they can take communion with us. Imagine a room full of young, itinerant munchkins, a lot of whom are used to having a morning snack right in the middle of the liturgy, at say, ten o’clock.

While my offspring hang on my arm with pleading eyes, I think back to my Roman Catholic upbringing, where a child’s first communion is a sacred rite of passage. My mind fills with questions. Are my children asking for communion because they are hungry? Or are they simply wanting to imitate us and heretically go through the motions? Are they capable of understanding what communion is all about?

What is communion about? I flip through the pages of a children’s book about Easter. I show them the pages describing the Last Supper. “This is the last time Jesus ate with his friends before he died.”

The youngest of my daughters already understands. She says, “This is my bread, I give it to you. This is my wine, I give it to you.”

“You are absolutely right. He shared,” I say, as I flip a few pages ahead to the picture of him hanging on the cross. “And then he died.”

My children are always quieted by the cross. When I was small, I used to be scared of it. To bring some joy into the moment, I sing the last verse for them from “Lord of the Dance.” I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black…They sing with me.

“And when we take communion, we are actually saying, ‘thank you,’” I explain. “We are thanking him for doing this,” I say, pointing to a colorful, angel-filled painting of the crucifixion. I flip back. “We are eating and drinking the way he did with friends, here.”

The word for communion, “eucharist,” comes from the word eucharisteo, which means “thanksgiving.” It even sounds like the modern Greek word for “thank you,” which is efharisto. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp explains that the word eucharisteo contains, in itself, two references endemic to the heart of thanksgiving – a nod to the Greek word for “grace,” charis, and a nod to the root of that word, chara, which means “joy.” She points out, thus, that joy is inherent in thanksgiving: if we can say thank you, we can find joy.

When we are called in I Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in all circumstances, we are called to inherit the joy contained in the act of thanksgiving – in the Eucharist. For when we are able to still manage thanks, despite all the odds against us, we are able to remain humble. Humility enables gratitude, and gratitude is the eye-prying opener of grace.

Even on the eve of his death, when he was about to be broken, Christ gave thanks. On the cusp of suffering, submission and sacrifice, Christ said “thank you.” Grace, by its humbling power, is a means to press onward through the dark. It is a means to find deep joy – holy fuel that keeps us going.

This Lent, as I think about Christ’s suffering, I will think about thanksgiving. I will implement a ritual of thanks. When I am challenged and feel I have lost joy, I will try to give thanks, anyway. When I feel broken, I will rise up and give thanks. I will sing the song we sing at our kid-friendly, snack-time church service:

“Thank you, Lord, for this new morning. Thank you, Lord, for this new day. Thanks, for I can leave my worries at your feet today.”

If we can still say thank you, we can still find joy.

© 2014 Anastasia Hacopian


originally written for LINK, my church’s magazine. thank you, Eva, for asking.

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