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At the heart of our religion stands the sacrifice of the Cross and the resurrection of Jesus. At the heart of the practice of our religion stands the remembering of that death and resurrection, the Eucharist, and at the heart of the Eucharist is the Great Thanksgiving – the Anaphora – the offering of that sacrifice. The very words we use today go back unchanged to the beginning of the third century. For 1800 years Christians have been invited to lift up their hearts and, having done so, immediately, ‘Let us give thanks to the Lord our God – it is right to give Him thanks and praise’. And then comes the really amazing bit – ‘We do well always and everywhere to give you thanks’.
Always and everywhere. That then is the mark of the Christian. He or she who gives thanks always and everywhere. We are to be Eucharistic women and men, we are to form a Eucharistic community, and by so doing to transform the world until it too gives thanks likewise.
But what is thanksgiving? What even is thanks? We teach children from an early age to say please and thank you - why? Not just because it’s polite, surely? If you look the word up in a dictionary it will say gratitude and if you look up gratitude it will say thanks. Not much help there. We can however pick out certain things that we’re doing when we thank someone. We are:
1. recognising that we are being given something;
2. acknowledging the giver;
3. expressing a feeling of satisfaction;
4. accepting the gift.
The Christian is, or should be, a person whose mind is dominated by thankfulness – it is a faculty we much cultivate and nourish all we can. Because thankfulness is what consecrates and blesses the raw material of life. If we live thankfully we are well on the way to Holiness. The opposite of thankful living is resentful living – the condition of being ‘agin’ God and ‘agin’ life, unable to love either. That is why our calling is to give thanks, ‘always and everywhere’. Realistically, we will find it hard to give thanks if we are starving or tortured or dying of cancer – but part of the meaning of the Eucharist is that there is no event or happening which cannot be transformed or transfigured. When we learn to interpret all that happens in terms of the whole ‘Christ event’, then thankfulness ‘always and everywhere’ becomes possible.
When we are asked to ‘lift up our hearts’ at the Eucharist, it’s not a plea to cheer up, it’s an invitation to say YES to life and YES to God and the best way of doing that is by living thankfully and praise-fully, until we are dominated by those very states. Eucharistic women and men will give thanks for ‘good’ wherever they see it – in nature, in the arts, in personal relationships, in legislation and in technology. Rejoicing in the ‘good’ should be the characteristic Christian response – though sadly we are often caricatured more for our capacity merely to find fault.
When we thank God for His Creation, which some of the newer Eucharistic prayers do in detail, we include in that the whole gamut of our experience. The good and the evil within life, the peace and the war, when the going’s good and when it’s rough as hell. What we read in our daily papers, see and hear on radio and television, are all things which we can consider in the light of Chris, which illuminates the darkest corners of our existence. As DZ Phillips pointed out, prayers of thanksgiving ‘are the religious answer to the way things go, the recognition of the dependence of all things on God’. In our thanksgiving we accept the presence of pain in existence and the faith that evil can be turned to good and finally will be. Christian prayer always sets Christ at the centre of its thanksgiving will all the other goodies set, as it were, around Him, ‘we bless you for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life, but ABOVE ALL for the inestimable love in the redemption of the world by Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace and the hope of glory.’
It is far more important that members of our Junior Church are taught that ours is a religion dominated by thankfulness than that ‘HE died to make us good’. Not because goodness doesn’t matter but because Christians see goodness in terms of love,. The flow of love in us all is hampered by self-interest and self-absorption. It is thankfulness and appreciation of life above all which are the keys to the door of the prison of self. Deo Gratias.
WEEKLY AT ST JOHN'S