By Bishop Linda Nicholls
One of the earliest lessons of childhood is to say ‘thank you’ – for gifts received at a birthday or Christmas; for a kindness shown; or for the food on the table. We are taught that offering thanks is an important social grace and is to be practiced regularly!
Yet it was only as an adult as I reflected on that practice that I realized that giving thanks is so much more than a social grace. Giving thanks is an spiritual practice that changes us. It is only when we give thanks that we recognize that we do not exist in isolation; that we are recipients of grace. We are given food, gifts, kindness, love, friendship and compassion that we cannot demand or earn – we can only receive and in receiving know we are loved.
When we say ‘Thank you’ we acknowledge that we need one another. The indigenous people and earliest settlers knew that the provision of the harvest was a gift. No matter how much tilling and caring for crops had taken place, the gift of sun and rain to make the crops grow was a gift of the Creator, not within their control.
At Thanksgiving we remember and celebrate this gift with family and friends. It is a time to acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient. We need the gifts of those who labour to plant, tend and harvest our food, the sun and rain to give the growth and those who bring the food to market and sell it to us. At Thanksgiving we stop to remember all the ways in which we are blessed by others – beginning with the blessings of the Creator.
Giving thanks is contagious. We start giving thanks and quickly realize so many other areas of our lives where we are grateful for all that others offer freely to us. The list becomes endless. As it grows our hearts grow lighter as the weight of this world with its pain and brokenness is lifted by the knowledge that we are not alone. We are part of an intricate web of relationships that support us beginning in the love and gift of life from God.
Scripture repeatedly invites us to be thankful. “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever” (1 Chr 16:34 ff). Jesus gave thanks before feeding the 5,000 and at the Last Supper. St. Paul repeatedly begins his letters with thanks − “I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Ephes 1:16); “We are to give “…thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20). Giving thanks is to permeate our lives every day.
That is why our worship centers around the Eucharist. Eucharist literally means ‘Thanksgiving’! Every time we gather for a Eucharist we give thanks, to remind ourselves that our lives are bound together in the life of God. We offer our thanks to God through praise in words and songs including the Great Thanksgiving where we retell the story of God’s greatest gift to us, his Son Jesus Christ, who shows us the way of love and complete trust in God that defeats even death itself.
Every time we worship we give thanks to lift our hearts from the brokenness of our own lives and those around us and remember the gifts we have been given − this beautiful fragile earth; the love and mercy of God; the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit!
I pray that as the world around us pauses for national Thanksgiving Day we will build into our daily lives the practice of thanksgiving that will encourage us and draw us closer to one another and to God. In a broken world that constantly repeats the story of scarcity and self-protection giving thanks is a defiant cry of hope that recognizes abundance, grace and love that begins in God and pours out in our lives.
THANKS BE TO GOD!!