The American ‘Thanksgiving’ is a holiday Judy and I have especially come to appreciate, for it resonates with the theme of thankfulness that we find in the Bible. Indeed, as our first Thanksgiving followed the events of 9/11, it was a particularly meaningful day for us.
While much has been written in recent times about the psychological and relational benefits that spring from thanksgiving and gratitude, philosophers of the ancient world also saw the importance of being thankful. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, wrote: Being and appearing grateful is not only the greatest of virtues, but also the parent of all others.
It has a rich meaning within Christianity. So, Paul writing in his Letter to the Colossians says, Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
But having a thankful heart does not come naturally to us. For as Paul pointedly states in Romans 1:19-23:
Ever since the creation of the world his (God’s) eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.
All of us have within us this bias against God: we don’t want to thank him or honor him in our lives. This is the essence of what the Bible refers to as sin – ingratitude. Created in the image of God, we are the glory of God; but having turned our back on him, we are now the shame of his creation. We see evidence of this wherever human beings are dehumanized by political oppression or violence, by poverty, hunger or injustice.
In our secularized society most people tend not to have a mind of their own, being seduced by pop-culture and political correctness, the loudest voices and the latest trends. Choosing to live without God, we are held in captivity to self.
The wonderful news is, as Paul develops in his Letters, that God in Jesus Christ has come in person to rescue us and to restore us to God as his unique image-bearers. In Ephesians 1:19f, Paul says that in raising and exalting Jesus, God demonstrated the immeasurable greatness of his power. Then, in Ephesians 2:6f, he tells us that, in raising and exalting us to new life, God has displayed the immeasurable riches of his grace in Jesus Christ.
Here is the root of Christian thanksgiving – a heartfelt gratitude for God’s extraordinary grace. Thanksgiving, by its very nature does not have its origin within us, it is a spontaneous, joyful response that imposes itself upon us from outside us. It is our heartfelt response to the awesome God who in his love claims us. As Karl Barth put it: Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.
A GENERAL ANGLICAN THANKSGIVING COLLECT
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. But above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (AAPB, 1978)