Sunday, November 23, 2014

We show our gratitude by accepting yet another gift


But one of them, when he saw that he had been healed turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and he fell down on his face at Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving, and he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-16

The gospels were not written to be a biography of Jesus. They do serve that function but that is not why they were recorded. Instead they stand written to be used in the church, by the church and for the church in order to teach us the Christian faith, which saves us from the leprosy of our sins, and re-creates us as the thankful people of God. What a wonder! that those who are un-holy on account of their transgressions, dying the slow death of a sinner each day, and cursing their Creator, should be made clean, made whole, made well and above all be made Thankful by Jesus. We are those people!

But what does it mean to be Thankful? In the daily business of life saying thank you is a mark of civility. It lets another person know that he has done something good for you, and that you recognize it and appreciate it. Thank you is also a sign of approval. Billions of times each day businesses and customers say thank you to one another to indicate that the transaction they just made is pleasing to them. However, in the church Thanksgiving is very different, not only in what we are thankful for, but how we express it! Like the lepers we, too, are afflicted with a spiritual disease known as sin. It is hideous, revolting and deadly not only to us but those around us as well. It is responsible for every trouble that the world knows, and it is the driving force behind the works of the Flesh which St. Paul catalogues for us in Galatians chapter five. Let us hear them again so that they might lead us to repentance, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

Whatever criticism we might level at the nine ungrateful lepers we can also learn something from them because they knew where to turn for mercy. They knew Who to call on when the world’s final answer was No! They knew that beyond the court of final appeals there was Jesus who, on account of His boundless love for sinners, was willing to say Yes, willing to do what no one else would, and what no one else could. With a command, “show yourselves to the priest,” the Word made Flesh cleansed their dying flesh and restored them to health. Now there is a reason to give thanks!

But even if only one out of ten returned to give thanks, the good news of the gospel is this: we are the One, not because we are more civilized or sanctified than others, but because in holy baptism God made us His own. He saved us from the Flood of Judgment that drowns the rest of wicked mankind, and brought us into the Ark of the Church, where the Greater Noah comforts us with the promise of a resurrected body that will never yield to illness again.

How can we give thanks for such a great Salvation? Are exclamations of praise, and hymns of glory nearly enough? They are surely a part of it if we take our cue from the Psalms which not only teach us the words, but also proclaim the reason for our praise. Or if we read the Revelation of St. John which gives us a glimpse of the worship that takes place in heaven. In chapter seven we find the whole company of heaven, which now includes the thankful Samaritan, falling down before the throne in worship, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen." What is the church’s liturgy except an earthly imitation of heaven, of the most noble activity any man could ever perform? And not only an imitation, but also a rehearsal, preparation for the day when we will be inducted into that white-robed assembly, a day we should not fear but rather anticipate with the greatest possible joy!

But that is then and this is now. How do we give proper thanks today to the Great Physician, who took the leprosy of our sin into His own body on the cross? We ask as much in the Offertory verse, “What shall I offer to the Lord for all His benefits to me, who by His sacrament and Word has set His servant’s offspring free?” And we receive the answer to this most urgent question of the soul in the next sentence, “The cup of blessing shall I raise, my vows unto the Lord I’ll pay; offer the sacrifice of praise with all His people on His day! Amen”

How do we give thanks for so great a salvation? Not by giving, but by receiving; by coming to the Lord’s altar, to the Eucharist, a word which means Thanksgiving, so that we might obtain all the blessed benefits that our gracious God chooses to give us in this holy Sacrament: union with the glorified Lord, peace for all of our wars, pardon for all our wrongs and the divine might to turn from the works of the flesh, and to embrace the gifts of the Spirit which are, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Alas! how poorly these things are understood in our day, but it need not be this way forever. Instead let us remember this: that as often as the church gathers to celebrate the Eucharist which Jesus gave His church, she is affording Him the highest and holiest thanksgiving that human lips can give. There is nothing higher, nothing better, and like the thankful leper our faith in Jesus makes us well. Amen.

~Rev Dean Kavouras

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