The Lord be with you. – And with your spirit.
Lift up your hearts. – We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. – It is right and just.
Did you notice what you just said? I proposed that we should all, together, give thanks to God. And in reply, you told me that this was the proper thing to do – and more than that, God deserves it!
Saying “Thank You” is something we teach children until it becomes automatic. But the words “Thank You” become a polite phrase rather than a heartfelt expression of gratitude. If we really want to show thanks, we do something special – sending flowers, or a card.
Today’s readings are all about the attitude of gratitude. Na’aman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper were both clearly grateful for the cures they received from God. Na’aman takes two buckets of earth home with him – he thinks he can only pray his thanks to the God of Israel by standing on Israeli soil!
Jewish law was full of rules about thanksgiving. The main Jewish feasts, at Passover and Pentecost, and the autumn Festival of Booths, were the times when different crops were harvested. The first fruits of each farm could be offered to God at the Temple. When an animal gave birth to a firstborn male, that too had to be sacrificed.
For centuries, when most Christians lived off the land, Harvest was a major celebration in each village church. Now, though, we’re in danger of taking things for granted. There’s food in the shops, and power at the flick of a switch. We know that biology and chemistry can explain how and why plants grow in the way they do.
Unlike our ancestors, we don’t rush to say that life’s a miracle which only God can explain. Slowly but surely, Christian harvest festivals became less and less about giving thanks, and more and more about giving food to those in need. We might still sing the words, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above…” – but they might not ring true in our hearts the way they did for our grandparents.
It’s certainly good to give food to those who are without. At the end of this month, we’ll celebrate Harvest here at St Philip Evans. In support of our local Foodbank, I’ll ask you to bring in long-life foodstuffs – there’s a list in the newsletter of what’s most useful. Foodbanks provide emergency food when a caring professional recognises that a family in need will have to wait a while before the welfare state catches up with them. You can read more in the newsletter or online, and I’ll say more about Foodbanks at the end of the month.
But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking Harvest is all about giving food to the needy. When we pray the Creed, we call God the Creator – and even though we understand a great deal of the science of HOW plants and animals work, our Christian faith tells us it’s still God who holds the Universe in being. Even Jesus gave thanks to his Father whenever he shared food with others, recognising that all good things are God’s gift to us.
So today’s a good day to remind ourselves that it is always appropriate to say grace before a meal. If there are guests who are not believers at our table, we can ask them to wait respectfully while we give thanks to God. This is a simple yet powerful way of showing that God is important in our daily life. Some families even dare to hold hands when saying grace! This creates a moment when it’s OK to use touch to keep in touch with one another.
We have other reasons to thank God, too. The Second Reading today reminds us that Christ is Risen. We gather for Mass on Sundays precisely because Sunday is the day when Jesus rose from the dead. So today we celebrate that Jesus is Alive! We remember also that because Jesus rose, we know that our loved ones and we ourselves can look forward to happiness with God, in heaven. When the first Christians gathered for their Sunday prayers, they called the service Eucharist – that is the Greek word for thanksgiving! They know, as we know, that there is no better way to give thanks to God the Father than to obey the command of Jesus: Do this in memory of me.
The Church has no doubt that it is truly right and just to give thanks and praise to God – you will hear me say so in the prayers every time we celebrate Mass. So in the silent reflection after this sermon, take a moment to ask: “What do I want to give thanks to God for this Sunday?”
We know how to give thanks – by celebrating Eucharist. We know why we give thanks – because all our good things are granted to us by God. And we know what to give thanks for, if only we take time to listen to our hearts. So let us give thanks to the Lord our God – it is right and just!