Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve

November 26, 2014
Text: Luke 17:11-19

            Our Holy Gospel this evening is not a moralistic reminder that we ought to say thanks.  We should be thankful, and should express our thanksgiving to God for His gifts and to others who have done good to us.  Our mothers taught us this habit, and it is important, because it forces us to acknowledge our reliance on others.  We have to die to our selfishness and self-reliance.  We have to put away our self-congratulations and acknowledge that we would not have this good apart from God and the people who benefited us.  We should say thanks.  But the point of our Holy Gospel really is not that.  The point is the cleansing Jesus bestows, and the grateful faith that ever returns to Jesus Christ for more of His gifts. 
            That is the pattern with God.  He cleanses.  He gives His gifts.  We then respond with thanks and praise.  The order here is important.  He acts first.  He acts decisively and generously, apart from any merit or worthiness in us.  He acts for us, not because we are good (we aren’t), but because He is good.  He acts without a view toward our gratefulness and thanksgiving.  He does not need our thanks or our expressions of affirmation (“Good job, God!  You’re doing really great with all the God business!  You sure are awesome”… He doesn’t need that).  He acts because He knows we need His action: His cleansing, His healing, His forgiveness, His life.  He acts because He is gracious, bestowing favor on those who don’t deserve it.  He acts because He is merciful, not holding our trespasses against us, but covering them with the blood of Christ.  Now, hearing all of that, who would not be grateful?  If you believe all of this is true, then you will indeed give thanks, rejoice in all circumstances, and in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4:6).  We give thanks because we know our God never stops giving to us.  He pours out His benefits on us, our life, our salvation, our daily bread, and every grace and blessing besides.     
            That is why the Samaritan returns to Jesus in our Holy Gospel.  It is not because he suddenly remembers what his mother taught him about saying thank you.  It is not to fulfill a duty, an obligation.  It is because he recognizes in Jesus One who can heal, not only leprosy, but every kind of uncleanness.  He recognizes in Jesus One who can heal from sin.  And save from death.  And give cleanness.  And give life.  He recognizes that Jesus is the Priest who can pronounce him clean, not just ceremonially, but really and concretely: forgiven, restored, made whole, complete.  The other nine are undoubtedly thankful they don’t have to live with leprosy anymore.  They’ve been released from their misery.  They’ve been relieved from their pain.  They are undoubtedly singing God’s praises on their way to the Jewish priests.  But the Samaritan has faith in Jesus.  And faith always returns to Jesus for more.  It is the ultimate thanksgiving. 
            Eucharist is the Greek word for thanksgiving.  We sometimes use that word for the Lord’s Supper, and in one sense it is especially appropriate.  Because what we learn from the Samaritan in our Gospel is that Christian thanksgiving is simply receiving from Jesus.  It is falling at His feet to receive all that He has to give.  We give thanks to Jesus by hearing His Word of forgiveness and life, believing that His Word is true, and at His Word taking His crucified and risen Body and Blood into our mouths at His Table.  Our Confessions and the Church Fathers speak of a two-fold effect of the Sacrament of the Altar: “the comfort of consciences and thanksgiving, or praise.”[1]  We come to the Sacrament to eat and drink the fruits of our Lord’s cross, for the forgiveness of our sins.  In this way, our consciences are comforted, and naturally we give thanks and sing God’s praises.
            Now, to give thanks is simply to acknowledge that a good has been done.  To praise is to state what that good thing is.  So when we give thanks and praise to God, we are simply saying back to God and to one another all the good things God has done for us in Christ.  In other words, we are confessing!  We are proclaiming!  We are evangelizing!  For we are speaking the Gospel.  Praise is not about telling God how great He is as if His self-esteem depends on it.  It is speaking and singing of the great things He has done for us in Christ, the Savior.  It is falling before the great High Priest of our Salvation, Jesus Christ, utterly empty in and of ourselves, that He might fill us with Himself, with the Sacrifice of Atonement that He has made for our sins before the Father, His true Body, His true Blood, given and shed on the altar of the cross.  To receive that, believing it is what He says it is, is Eucharist: Thanksgiving.
            This Thanksgiving Day, when Grandmother sets a feast before you at her table, indeed, you should say thank you.  But the best thanks Grandma could receive is for you to hold your empty plate before her and ask for another helping of her goodness.  The Lord has set a Feast before you.  Your plate is empty.  You should, indeed, say thank you to God for all that He has given you until now.  But the best thanks you can give Him is to stand before Him empty of yourself, and ask Him to fill you with Christ.  Which He does as He says to you: “Take, eat, the Body of Christ, given for you; take, drink, the blood of Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.”  Thanks be to God!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

[1] Apol. XXIV:75 (McCain, p. 232).


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