On Thursday, you may find yourself sitting between Uncle Bob and your mom’s best friend, as they go around the table saying what they are thankful for. Now is your turn, but you do not know what to say, this has been a particularly challenging year. You are thinking: What can I be possibly thankful for? Well, 2018 is about to end, that’s something. But, you do not want to be a downer.
The story of the Last Supper in the gospel of John chapter 13 may offer a couple of insights that might help you get into the groove of gratitude. Similarly, to many of us this week, Jesus is hosting a special feast around the table, that we’ve come to know in Christianity as the Last Supper. A meal that was part of the festivities of the Passover meal, one of the most important festivals among the Jewish people.
Jesus is sitting around the table with the people the writer of John names as those “whom he loved as his own…until the end”. These people were Jesus’ tribe, his family. Not unlike ours, Jesus family isn’t free from dysfunction. In this passage, the writer stops to highlight that Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of Jesus’ friends had already been influenced by the devil to betray Jesus. So, yes, there was a frenemy at the table. Yet, Judas Iscariot is lumped into the group of people “Jesus loved as his own; till the end.”
In the midst of all this drama, the writer of John 13, picks up on Jesus’ state of mind. THe issue with Judas is not to distract him. Jesus seems to be enraptured in the spirit of gratitude. John writes in verses 3-4: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. ” (NRSV) The he proceeds to wash his disciples’ feet.
Jesus’ response to thanksgiving is service.
It is in reading this scripture closely, tinged with empathetic imagination, that I pick up on two things Jesus seems to be thankful for, that we may be grateful for as well, right now.
First, Jesus knows that the Father had given all things into his hands.
For Jesus, the Son of God, this means the Father entrusted him with all power over all of Creation. But also, Jesus, the human may’ve been recognizing the simple pleasures of being entrusted with hosting this feast, and to have friends and family to feast with.
Jesus is thankful that he’s been entrusted with our care.
There is a sense of self-assurance that comes with being entrusted with the well-being of others. Jesus takes pride in calling himself a servant. It is his honor to serve his disciples. This time, not only by hosting this particular feast, but also by washing their feet.
When we are grateful for the people around us, we can love on them with our care and service. It is a big responsibility! But it is indeed, something we call all start doing right now. We all can take care of each other in meaningful simple ways.
Have you recently done inventory of all the things you have access to? Who are you entrusted to care for? Your children, students, clients? I would suggest you resist the temptation to focus on what you do not have. Do you take for granted the things you have access to? Are you thankful for the honor of serving others?
Second, Jesus knows he had come from God and was going to God.
For Jesus the Son of God, this was a pivotal milestone in the timeline of his ministry. He knew the end had drawn near, and this was potentially the last time he would share with his family and friends. However, this did not deter him from sharing at this feast and doing what he had intended to do. That resolve, that determination comes from a special gift: knowing who he was and where he was heading. For Jesus, his life’s purpose was clear and definite.
Every time I read any of the Last Supper passages found in Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, Luke 22:7–39 or John. 13:1–17:26, I am overwhelmed by thoughts of the end. How did Jesus feel knowing he was about to be betrayed, condemned, tortured, and killed? How could he even focus with the task at hand; celebrating Passover?
Just recently, my husband and I watched the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, that tells the story of the legendary band Queen, and their fearless lead singer Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991 at the age of 45 to complications associated with AIDS. There is a famous quote attributed to him, and if I recall correctly it was used in the movie. He’s been reportedly known to have said, “The most important thing is to live a fabulous life. As long as it’s fabulous I don’t care how long it is.”
These words struck me. I sensed in them a spirit of peace and assurance in the face of death. I suspect this comes from that place where we are able to say: “I know where I came from, I know where I am going.” In other words: I know who I am; and I know whose I am. I wonder if knowing this, gave both Jesus and Freddie Mercury, the courage to face death with hope.
You and I may get caught up in the details, if we ask ourselves: who am I, exactly? Where am I going, exactly? We might get underwhelmed thinking we are not enough. We might be disappointed by admitting that we may have no clue where we are heading.
I happen to think Jesus’ life is beyond fabulous. However, in this instance, sitting around the table with his friends, he seems confidently assured; simply satisfied in just knowing, that he came from God, and was returning to God. What matters is not the details of all he endured in life, nor the circumstances under which he would be returning to God, but rather, the general conviction that his past, present, and future belong to God. This knowledge was enough for him. He needed nothing else.
What would it look like for us to find satisfaction in knowing we came from God and we will return to God? What does it look like to be grateful with who we are and where we are for now? What freedoms come from accepting we are enough?
So when your turn is up to give thanks when you are sitting around the Thanksgiving feast this week, here are a few options in lieu of this reflection on Scripture:
(1) I am thankful that I have .
(2) I am grateful that I am able to serve .
(3) I am thankful for where I am right now in my life. (Safe, growing, learning, etc.)
(4) I am grateful for where I am heading. (Name a dream, a goal.)
(5) I am thankful for God’ love.
I invite you to explore answers to all these questions above in the comments below.
Also, I am curious in which ways you and your family incorporate the practice of thanksgiving around the table?