In Liturgy 31, no. 4, guest-edited by Thomas Schattauer on the general topic of Liturgy & Mission, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes about the power of the sacraments, especially the eucharist, to form us in faith that cares about Earth. Here is the second of a two-part abbreviation of her argument beginning with taking note in the Eucharist of who gives thanks and for what.
Are the people gathered around the table giving thanks to God for “my” blessings and for saving me for life after death? Or do we offer gratitude to God for creating this magnificent world; for liberating it from sin (both societal and individual); and for creating, gathering, and sending the church to “participate in God’s mission?” Do we sing out in gratitude that God has called human creatures to be God’s hands … that “through faith in Christ and through our eating, we … have Christ abiding in us”?
If our thanksgiving in the Eucharist is for this plentitude, then the Eucharist is nothing less than the celebration of all creation’s redemption and of our calling to “dedicate ourselves to the care and redemption of all that God has made.” To thank God for abiding in us (Jn 6:56), so that we may be God’s “rusty tools” in “striv[ing] for justice and peace in all the earth,“ is to receive God’s gift of the indwelling Christ as moral-spiritual power to repent, change direction, and re-form society.
. . . As I remain convinced that gratitude is a bedrock disposition of Christian faith, I realize a troubling paradox. Many of the material goods for which I give thanks became mine because they were “taken” from others (through complex economic, political, and military systems) whose loss may have been devastating, even deadly. Were the diamonds in my wedding ring mined by what is essentially slave labor in South Africa? When I give thanks for a meal, am I thanking God for food that generated vast quantities of greenhouse gases in its production, transport, and packing? Did I fund my children’s education with investment returns from companies that do not pay all employees a living wage? To what extent are the monies that pay my salary produced by companies that supply the weapons and airplanes used to bomb Iraq?
. . . Does thanksgiving among materially well-off people hide how our wealth is linked to the impoverishment of many? If so, how could our practices of gratitude in the Eucharist spur us to the work of creating more equitable and ecologically healthy economic relationships?
Christian ethicist Emilie Townes claims that for people living in covenant relationship with God, social healing begins with communal lament. Lament was integral to the ancient Hebrews’ covenant relationship with God, she suggests, drawing on the work of Walter Brueggemann. A loss of lament meant “also a loss of genuine covenant interaction with God.” Communal lament, as Townes explains, is a cry of sorrow by the people gathered, a cry of grief and repentance and a plea for help in the midst of social affliction. . . Perhaps for “us” too, lament is integral to thanksgiving.
. . . The crucified and risen Christ present in bread and wine reminds the people why they can lament without drowning in despair. In the sacrament, we taste and see that the power that can heal this beautiful and broken world is present with, among, and within the stuff of earth.
More of Moe-Lobeda’s ideas are offered in the full essay.
Cynthia Moe-Lobeda is professor of theological and social ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, and Core Doctoral Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.