Saturday, October 11, 2014

At All Times and in All Places: Reflections on Thanskgiving

Thanksgiving Sunday
12 October 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Readings:  Joel 2.21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2.1-7; Matthew 6.25-33
         As many of you may know, I have been an Anglican all my life.  I was baptized in the Church of Saint Mary in East Molesey near Hampton Court Palace in July of 1953.  My sister and I became charter members of Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs in 1963.  Two years later I was confirmed by Bishop Thayer at Grace Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs.  Sixteen years after my confirmation I was ordained deacon in my home parish and, six months later, priest at the Cathedral of Saint John in the Wilderness in Denver.  My whole life has been spent within the embrace of this community of faith.  Some people might even say that I have spent my whole life ‘confined’ within an Anglican cocoon.

         So, on this Thanksgiving weekend, I think that no one will be surprised that I draw upon this Anglican heritage to offer some reflections on what it means to offer thanks to God.  Given the turmoil that surrounds us in the world today, some may think, even in the Christian community, that there is little to reason to give thanks to God or that it mean seem insensitive to the needs and concerns of others to do so.  But it is precisely in times such as these that we need to live our lives in gratitude.

         For most of my life, until the ‘new’ American prayer book of 1979, every celebration of the holy communion included the presider saying or singing these words:  “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty, Everlasting God . . . .”  Following this introduction the presider would give a specific reason why, on this Sunday or holy day, we were lifting up our hearts to give thanks to the living God, the source of all life, the creator of all things, visible and invisible.

         These words echoed through my home parish on every Sunday of the Vietnam War.  These words echoed through my home parish on every Sunday of the struggle for civil rights of the 1960’s.  This words echoed through my home parish on the Sunday following 4th of July floods that swept away homes and lives in 1976 as Colorado was celebrating the centennial of statehood and the United States the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.  And, when the presider finished singing these words and those that followed, we the people of God responded by singing the ancient hymn of Isaiah:  “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of thy glory:  Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.”

         Were we ignorant of what was going on around us?  No, we were not ignorant.  Did we not care about what was going on around us?  Yes, we did care.  So, why were we praising God?  For what gifts were we giving thanks?  As a young boy I probably was giving thanks that I had a secure home, food on the table, a family who cared for me, teachers who taught well and friends who enriched my life.  These are gifts worth giving thanks for, but it does not explain why we give thanks when things are not well for others in our world.

         It was later that I heard words for the first time that words that have helped me understand how it is possible to give thanks to God even in the worst of times.  These words were written by a layman, Howard Galley, whose eucharistic prayer was included in the American prayer book:

Lord God of our Fathers; God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ:  Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.  Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.   Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the word in his name.  (The Book of Common Prayer 1979, 372)

         We give thanks because, even in the worst of times, we can see the hand of God at work in the world around us:  aid workers who risk their lives to minister to the sick, to refugees and to those caught in zones of conflict; young women who risk their lives to advocate for education of girls; older men who risk their lives to rescue children caught in the web of child-labour.  We give thanks because, in receiving the gift of the body and blood of Christ under the signs of bread and wine, we feel his life moving within us and helping us, even in the worst of times, to ‘do more than we can ask or imagine'.  We give thanks because, even in the most difficult of times, we are willing to acknowledge both our failure to act at all and our failures to act faithfully, not to beat our breasts in self-pity, but to be renewed to be God’s people in the world.

         It is right, good and a joyful thing to praise God at all times and in all places because, in the act of praising and thanking God, we remember that all things come to us from God and that we are only the stewards not the possessors of the bounty of God.  This remembering stirs up within us the will to act in ways that enable these gifts to be shared by all our sisters and brothers.  Times such as ours when, in the name of God, people persecute the people of God; when, in the name of security, authorities restrict the freedom of their people to speak out about injustice; when, in the name of present prosperity, we exploit the resources of ‘this fragile earth, our island home’; it is right to give thanks to God in order to bring us to our right minds and right spirits.

         So, whether we have a festive meal today or tomorrow, let Tuesday see us remembering who we are and what we are called to be.  Let Tuesday find us setting our minds on God’s kingdom and on God’s justice before everything else (cf. Matthew 6.33 in the Revised English Bible).  Let Tuesday find us praising and thanking God at all times and in all places by the lives we live as salt for the earth, a light to enlighten the nations and agents of God’s reign of justice and peace.  Amen.

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