Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

24 November 2004 at Mount Olive L.C., Metairie, LA (?)

Text: Ps 116; Isa 61:10-11; 1 Tim 2:1-8; Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

It is certainly fitting to give thanks for all that the Lord has graced us with. We live in a country that enjoys a great deal of freedom and prosperity. Most of us enjoy a lifestyle that would have been the envy of kings only a century ago: television, air conditioning, cars, computers, telephones, and air travel. While there are cases of horrific poverty even in the midst of our plenty, the vast majority of people in our country – even among the poor – are wealthier and more comfortable than even the average person in many other nations around the world. We Americans certainly have much to be thankful for.

It is indeed fitting to give thanks to God for these kinds of gifts that he shares with us – gifts we sometimes call “first article gifts” – the kinds of gifts our Lord gives us as part of his creation, from the first article of the creed. He gives us “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that [we] have. He richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life.” Were Luther writing today, he might add technology, medical breakthroughs, travel, and leisure time. And all of these gifts are given “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us].” It is indeed our duty to “thank and praise, serve and obey him.” We ought to “give thanks unto the Lord for he is good,” and indeed “his mercy endureth forever.” This is most certainly true.

And this is why we traditionally celebrate with a meal, with a joyous feast of the bounty of the earth, of harvested fruits and vegetables, of creatures provided for us to eat, of baked goods and beverages made from the finest our Lord’s good creation has to offer.

But there is another meal we celebrate in thanksgiving for what our Lord has given us in his “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.” We celebrate this Holy Meal tonight – a meal which is indeed a “first article gift” – a meal of wheat and water made into bread, and a meal of grapes crushed and aged into wine. This meal is called the Eucharist, from the Greek word: eucharisteo: “I give thanks.” But just as the bread and wine are not merely bread and wine, this meal is not merely a celebration of the first article of the Creed. For this meal is like no other. It is a celebration, a thanksgiving, a eucharist from the second article of the creed, of redemption. For our Lord uses creation itself, rising to redeem creation which had fallen. Our Lord becomes a Man to redeem fallen man by rising. Our Lord becomes creatures of bread and wine, so that creatures of bread and wine might become our Lord. Our Lord, in the form of creaturely bread and wine, is eaten and drunk by his creatures so that we join in his divinity. In this mysterious meal, the first and second articles of the creed come together. As the ancient church father Athanasius says it: “God became man so that man might become God.”

And so it is even more fitting that we should give thanks, that we should “eucharist” for our redemption than even for our material wealth, prosperity, and freedom. Not that we should forget about “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home,” but we should keep these things in perspective. For while these things will all wear out and disappear, the “second article gift” of our salvation “endureth forever.” This is the Christian thanksgiving that the secular world would find pathetic when compared to a spread of turkey, dressing, and gravy. In the eyes of the world, a single wafer of bread and a single sip of wine is hardly a meal, let alone a Thanksgiving Feast. And yet, to those who are being saved, this is indeed a participation in the greatest eternal banquet of all time. And it is a meal of thanksgiving. For paradoxically, we show our gratitude to our Lord by receiving from him even more.

As our introit from Psalm 116 asks: “What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits toward me?” That is to ask, “What should I give to God in return for all the wonderful things he has done and continues to do for me?” Notice what the answer is. “I will take the cup of salvation,” and “call upon the name of the Lord.” In other words, I will show my thanks to God by taking, by receiving, by enjoying his gifts. I will take the chalice of salvation and will drink his holy blood. I will eat his very flesh. I will join in the banquet he throws for me and for all unworthy people who deserve to drink a different kind of cup.

In Scripture, the image of the cup is usually not a good one. The “cup” is typically a vessel of God’s wrath. It is the cup of suffering our Lord asked to be taken from him. And yet it is this same cup filled with the wine of the grapes of God’s wrath that becomes for us the “cup of salvation.” For the wrath of God has passed over us, visiting death upon the firstborn, upon the only-begotten, sparing us. And this wrath, having been fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ, becomes a gift of salvation which is brought to us in a chalice and placed on our tongues in a wafer. This removal of wrath is what makes it possible for St. Paul to exhort in our epistle that “men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath.” For we lift holy hands in prayer in gratitude, as St. Paul says, in: “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks.” We give thanks to “God our savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” We give thanks to our Lord, the “one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.”

And we give thanks further by singing the praise of him who saved us, of him who drained the cup of wrath to the dregs, of him who replaced the wrath with the fruit of the vine of his holy Blood. We join Isaiah in rejoicing in the Lord, he who has “clothed [us] with the garments of salvation” and who covers us “with the robe of righteousness.” In our Psalm, the next thing that follows taking the cup of salvation, is calling on the name of the Lord, that is prayer. We respond with prayer, and with more: “I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all his people.” Having received our Lord’s “first article gifts” of “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home,” after enjoying the Lord’s gifts from the garden: “the things that are sown in it” and which “spring forth,” we give thanks. And having received the “second article gifts” of forgiveness of sins, of redemption, of communion with God himself through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son, given to us in his Word, in Baptism, and in the great thanksgiving of the Eucharist, we then, like the cleansed leper in our Gospel text, come back to Jesus week after week, Sunday after Sunday, to fall down on our faces at his feet, to give him thanks.

And this great thanksgiving is not only a once-a-year holiday, nor is it only a weekly Eucharist, but it is an eternal banquet. It is an ongoing festival of the gifts of creation and redemption that will have no end. And as Christians have prayed at the end of meals for centuries, let us pray:

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endureth forever!” Amen!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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