Published on November 9, 2021 by Zac Hicks  
hicks zac

As a worship leader and pastor who is always on the hunt for “new material,” I’m regularly blown away when I rediscover that the best material has already been written, just waiting to be unearthed and given again to the church. That’s how I feel about Psalm 116.

Worship and liturgy scholars will rightly point to the Psalm’s “eucharistic” overtones. Eucharist is part of the “thanksgiving” word-group in Greek, but for Christians on the other side of Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper—the place where Jesus broke bread, lifted the cup, and “gave thanks” (Matt 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24)—“giving thanks” is associated with everything that the Communion table has come to mean. For the Christian therefore, “thanksgiving” is a rich remembrance that right when we needed God in our brokenness and sin, Jesus came and did for us what we could never do for ourselves: he offered himself as a sacrifice and completed the entire work of our cradle-to-grave salvation, for us (Heb 10:1-14).

And all those themes—our repentance, Christ’s sacrifice, and a “thanksgiving meal”—are present in Psalm 116. Maybe the Psalm, then, gives us a pattern of how to approach the Thanksgiving tables we’ll sit at in just a few short days.

1. Testify about your need and God’s faithfulness.

The Psalm doesn’t begin by talking about theology in an abstract way, or discussing salvation generically. No, it begins with a personal testimony:

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice
and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
(Psalm 116:1-2, ESV)

We learn here that for the Christian all of life is repentance—we “call on him” for mercy “as long as we live.” We never graduate from needing to say, presently, “God, I have sinned. I am broken. I need you.” So maybe around our tables, we can spend a moment with friends and family simply telling our story: “I want to remember this day that God is so faithful. That I’m a wreck, but he has forgiven me, is forgiving me, and will forgive me.”

2. Make the Thanksgiving table an echo of Christ’s Table.

The Psalm goes on:

What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD.
(Psalm 116:12-13, ESV)

There it is again, “calling upon the name.” Repentance. But this time it’s tied to the cup and to the meal. Perhaps then, as we Christians look at our thanksgiving tables, we might see them as extensions of the table around which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper with God’s people. Everything we eat and drink can remind us of our salvation in Jesus and point us to the future feast that the Lord’s Supper points us to. We can say to those gathered around our tables this Thanksgiving, “Let’s remember that, in Christ, we will all one day join in the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).

3. Re-commit your life as a whole sacrifice of praise.

The fruit of this kind of reflection on the Thanksgiving table leads us to:

I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
(Psalm 116:17, ESV)

So maybe at our tables, after offering a testimony, and after reminding ourselves of our salvation and future feasting, we can grab hold of Paul’s words to encourage each other: “By the mercies of God…present your bodies as a living sacrifice…which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1, ESV). Encourage your friends and family this Thanksgiving that because Jesus gave it all, and secured a Feast for us, we’re free to give ourselves away for the sake of others—to live as a sacrifice. 

This thanksgiving, perhaps take a cue from Psalm 116, and orient your tables around the gospel-story once again!

Zac Hicks, professor of music and worship at Samford University, is a popular worship leader, songwriter, and clinician.  He is author of The Worship Pastor and the forthcoming book Worship By Faith Alone: Thomas Cranmer’s Vision for Gospel-Centered Liturgy, part of the Dynamics of Christian Worship series from InterVarsity Press.