For, of course, in Greek the word ‘Thanksgiving’ is ‘Eucharist’, and the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass has its roots in the Jewish thanksgiving sacrifice called the todah which is Hebrew for ‘thanksgiving and praise.’ Anyone familiar with the Old Testament religion may know about sacrifices such as the holocaust offering, sin offering or burnt offering, but not many will be aware of the todah.
A todah sacrifice would be offered by someone whose life had been spared. Maybe they recovered from a disease or survived a deadly battle. The person who had scraped through would call his friends and family together and celebrate a todah sacrificial meal. A lamb would be sacrificed in the Temple by the priest, and then some bread would be consecrated just at the moment the lamb was sacrificed. The bread and meat, along with wine, became the menu for the thanksgiving meal. Along with the meal would be prayers and psalms of praise and thanksgiving.The usual thinking is that the Eucharist is the Christian celebration of the Passover, in which Christ is the Passover Lamb sacrificed once and for all. And while this is true, according to Longenecker it is also a todah offered for our excape from death due to sin.
When we celebrate the Thanksgiving Meal of the Eucharist, we thank God for our deliverance from the bondage of sin and give thanks for Christ the Passover Lamb who was slain. We give thanks for our salvation. We recall the once-for-all sacrifice, bring it into the present moment and celebrate the feast. As such we re-live not only the Paschal mystery but the earlier Passover mystery of Exodus.
And isn’t the pilgrimage of the settlers in the new world also a kind of Exodus story? They went out from the land of bondage and made a long, hard journey to the promised land. Therefore the theology of Thanksgiving is the theology of Passover. We celebrate not just the good things we have, but our deliverance from bondage, our hard won freedoms and our souls’ salvation.Enjoy your Thanksgiving feast, and think about the long history it represents.