“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise. It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, God Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
As we prepare to come to the table of the sacrament of Holy Communion these are the familiar words that we hear. In fact, the entire prayer in our hymnal is labeled The Great Thanksgiving. In part because that is one of the actions that are present within our practice of Communion and even an integral part of our worship service as a whole.
In our scripture today we encounter an act of thanksgiving that comes from a man being healed, and in part, we learn the manner in which thanksgiving is meant to be part of our daily lives as Christians and a part of our worship services when we gather together. So let’s explore what it is about thanksgiving that connects us to God.
As we look at our scripture passage we see that thanksgiving is what connects us to the works of Christ. Despite that work in this passage being a miracle I think we can still connect it to the whole of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, and God’s continued working of grace that manifests itself as we journey through our faith. In the passage, we have Jesus traveling, probably on his way from Galilee to Judea and more specifically Jerusalem. As he is traveling he and the disciples enter a village and are approached by ten lepers. The lepers ask for Christ’s mercy, essentially asking for Christ to heal them. Through an act of their obedience, they are healed. The act of obedience presents itself in the lepers going and showing themselves to the priests in verse 14. Oddly enough Christ never says that they should return to him. However, we know from our own human reason that a natural reaction to an act like Jesus performs is to offer thanks. We teach our children when they are young that when they receive something or something is done for them they are to say thank you.
We are not sure whether Christ even excepts acknowledgment of thanks for the services he has rendered for these ten individuals. However, when approached by the one who returns Christ seems perturbed by the unwillingness of the other nine to return and offer thanksgiving towards the miracle they experienced. However, in his return, Jesus blesses the Samaritan man who returns having been healed. To the best of our knowledge the men who were healed remained healed, but this man who returns and offers his sincerest thanksgiving to Christ receives that second blessing of wellness from Christ, and it is that manner that we come to this table.
The word used in this passage and the passage for the institution of the Lord’s Supper is Eucharisteō. This word literally means to be grateful or to offer thanks, and it is believed by biblical Greek translators to be one of the highest forms of thanks in the Greek language. This is to exemplify how deeply thankful this Samaritan man was having been healed.
The question posed out of this passage for us is how are we offering thanks to God. The manner in which we talk about that today is in the context of the communion meal and in a broader context how that fits within our understanding of thanksgiving in worship. However, beyond that, we understand the manner in which Wesley talks about means of grace. If part of thanksgiving is an understanding of blessing then we can assert that to offer thanksgiving can also mean a manner in which we too are changed too by God’s gift to us.
Because Communion is supposed to be something that is so integral when we gather together for worship it is a mystery how it faded from the norm of happening whenever we gather for worship.
To begin what does thanksgiving look like to God? It is offering him genuine thanks and then allowing ourselves to be blessed. The willingness to receive the blessing shows, in part, the genuineness of our thanksgiving. That is not to say that can’t happen in the context of a worship service without communion, but what better way to embody that process of thanksgiving and blessing than within a sacrament that is a means by which we most surely experience God’s grace. The call to the table happens because we are in part thankful of what is being offered not just at the table but in terms of an entire life that is offered through Christ’s salvation.
The point of thanksgiving is drawn so strongly upon, in this passage and in Communion, the presence of Christ. The invitation for us to join Christ at the table affords us the opportunity to offer our thanks. This is why the invitation is what brings us to the table and having been invited we proceed to offer our thanks to what God is offering followed by our opportunity to receive it.
So what does offering thanks look like?
If we are to stipulate that we should, not out of a sense of duty but out of a sense of faith, offer thanksgiving then what does that thanksgiving look like?
Well to begin it should be intentional. In that, we need to make an intentional effort to come to God and offer thanks. Even if it hurts. That is why we make the sacrifice to come to church. That is why we give of our time during the day to pray to God, and intentional in that time give thanks to that which God has done for us. We build, again, intentional time into our schedule to ensure we are offering that thanks. I am sure Jesus was very much out of the Samaritans way of life but he makes the effort to find Jesus and give him the praise he deserves.
Next, it needs to be authentic. If we are intentional about the thanks we give them our thanks also needs to be authentic. So many times I hear people say that they come to church because it is part of their duty, it is what they have to do, or if they didn’t then they felt like they did something wrong. Yes, you have covered that intentional aspect of coming to God, but have you really come in the authentic manner that God asks of us. God wants us to come praise and adoring him, and offering our thanks, ready to be transformed, but it seems more and more these days that we come out of sheer ritual because it is the way it has always been done and we don’t seek to have the blessing truly bestowed upon us because we are afraid of how that blessing may change the way we are called to act.
Lastly, our thanks must be continual. In that, we must be always looking for opportunities to offer thanks to God. Not that we need to find things to be thankful for, but we need to come to God continually. Each and every opportunity that is available to us we should take to give thanks to God. We should be constantly seeking to praise God, why? Because God works within us to change us and make us more like Christ when we come thankful for the work God has done. We don’t do it for our sake, but for what God can do through us in the name of the Kingdom. The pronunciation of wellness to the Samaritan man was a statement to the change the man experienced. I would argue not the physical healing of his leprosy, but instead a spiritual healing of Christ’s invitation into his heart.
That means that when we are intentionally, authentically, and continually seek opportunities to give thanks to God we engage in acts of thanksgiving as they come our way, and we seek to enhance our spiritual lives by also seeking more opportunities. This does not negate the need for things like worship or communion but enhances our need for them. Because in both we offer our praise to God, and through both, we experience the grace that God has given to us. And as we think about the role that plays the more often we do that the more often we live into the disciples God calls us to be, both ion a personal and a social sense.
Yes not living into this understanding means we come to worship inauthentically. It means that we probably don’t take communion as often as we should. It means that we are not intentional about coming to God with the frequency that God deserves, and these should all be viewed as ways in which we can grow in our Christian faith with God. The great thing is that our story is not over, we can change it, we can make it better, but we can do neither without admitting that we need to do so.
I want you to reflect on your manner of thanksgiving to God. Are you perfect in being intentional, authentic, and continual in your manner of thanksgiving? How can you become better? And if you, by some means respond yes how can you be made more perfect in that sense, because we can always grow.
I believe the reason that over and over again the Samaritans provide an avenue for Jesus to work is that they are willing to do so. Christ’s ministry is one of giving, are we willing to give back in the manner in which Christ has given to us? Are we willing to participate in that giving, or do we cheapen by the manner in which we have turned giving into some moral obligation and a box that must be checked?
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God because it is right to give our thanks and praise”