A sacrifice of thanksgiving
Roger Juppexplains why love must be the hallmark of all we do, motivated by our thankfulness for God’s love for us
Why do we love God? A rather direct question at the beginning of a sermon, you may think. Those of us brought up with the Book of Common Prayer might turn to the General Thanksgiving for an answer which is all in one place. My great aunt, from whom I learnt much, said the General Thanksgiving every night. In knowing how to be thankful, and in giving voice to that, we can learn what it is to be loved and why we return love for love.
‘Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men... We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable 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 beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days...’
Holiness and righteousness
We give thanks for all the signs of God’s goodness and love: creation, preservation, life in all its richness which is an undoubted blessing. And, of course, for our redemption which is the chief sign of the Lord’s inestimable love, and, along with this, for the means of grace and the hope of glory. The Psalmist echoes this when he says: ‘How shall I repay the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord’ (Ps. 116). Indeed, speaking directly to the God of Israel, the Psalmist says: ‘I will offer you a sacrifice of thanksgiving: and call upon the name of the Lord.’ Yes, echoes the General Thanksgiving; let us have a proper sense of all God’s mercies, let our hearts be unfeignedly (that is, genuinely) thankful, and let us show this not only with our lips, but in the living sacrifice of our lives, shown by service and by a journey through life marked by holiness and righteousness.
We love God because he first loved us, because he is love, his essence is love, and so God is unselfish with his love, he is generous with himself to us. What he gives is a full measure. So, when he saw his love rejected, when he saw mankind unfriendly – unkind, ungrateful, as George Herbert would have it – God gave us more love in return, giving us himself in our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘He became what we are so that we might become what he is,’ wrote an early Christian author. We love because, if our hearts are directed and motivated aright, love is the right response to love and for love. So, in penitence we might have been taught to say, ‘O my God, I love thee with my whole heart and above all things, and am very sorry that I have offended thee. May I love thee without ceasing and make it my delight to do in all things thy most holy will.’ The motivation for seeking God’s forgiveness, whatever is amiss in our lives, is love, because we have offended against love. Hymns often put it best, in my experience: ‘My God, I love thee; not because I hope for heaven thereby... Not with the hope of gaining aught, not seeking a reward; but as thyself hast lovèd me, O ever-loving Lord.’
The giver of gifts
God, because he is love, is the giver of gifts, as Jesus reminds us in our Gospel reading (Matthew 7.7–11). Seekers will be able to find and those desiring admission will have the door opened for them. Those asking for bread will indeed have bread, for the Father is the giver of good things and will not offer a stone when food is called for. Gifts are benefits, as the General Thanksgiving reminds us. So it was that St Richard of Chichester, when he lay dying, asked for a crucifix to
be brought to him. Gazing upon it and caressing it, he is reported as saying, ‘Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for me.’ Giving such benefits, such gifts, is painful, costly, sacrificial. Such gifts as God gives in Jesus are marked with the wounds of the cross. No wonder that so familiar thanksgiving prayer of St Richard ends with an expression of love: ‘May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly.’
The Bread of Life
Our Mass this evening is about thanksgiving and not about campaigning; it is about celebration and not about strategy. We make this thanksgiving in the only way, really, that Catholic Christians know and which has been faithfully handed down to us, by gathering around the Lord’s Table and uniting ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ’s great thanksgiving in the Eucharist. We seek God’s love – and he shows us the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice; we ask for bread – and we are given the Bread of Life, sufficient food for our journey, a food constantly renewed because Jesus said that he came to give us life, life in all its fullness. ‘Give us this bread always,’ the people asked after they had been fed in great numbers, and the Lord is always true and faithful to his promise, a covenant sealed with his life- lood shed on the cross. The Lord comes to us in this way not so that we might behold his heavenly glory and die, but so that he might make his home with us, tabernacle with us, sharing his presence with us both in his majesty and in his humility, which is the humility of the Incarnation and of the cross. For ‘He became what we are so that we might become what he is.’
Our celebration as Catholic Christians in the Church of England is about that vision of truth and holiness that has marked our life since the revival begun in the Oxford Movement and carried on by the Tractarians and their successors, all of whom taught us the faith once delivered to the saints. Not a new expression of the faith, but a faith that is one with that of the Apostles and the undivided Church of the first millennium. We want to be true to that rich inheritance. We want what the Lord first gave to us, and no different. We don’t want it changed or diluted. If man starts to change the gifts of God, very often they end up looking like what man has made and not what God has given. And what we seek is a legitimate expression of Anglican faith, as the Five Guiding Principles in the House of Bishops’ Declaration underlines, and not something new and conformed to the patterns of contemporary belief.
The Society is not a bad word for the vehicle by which we wish to provide ministry, sacraments and oversight which we can receive with confidence. As Christians we live as members one with another, united in faith and in love, reflecting to the world in our lives how God is in himself. How we proclaim that to others is our mission and our challenge. It is, indeed, the call of our baptism. We seek to grow in holiness, to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to flourish within the life and structures of the Church of England, making our full contribution to Christ’s mission in our diocese.
E’en so I love thee, and will love,
And in thy praise will sing,
Solely because thou art my God,
And my eternal King.
The historic faith
Let love, then, be the hallmark of what we do and what we initiate today; a love which draws its life and motivation from our thanksgiving to God for his love to us. That love must be lived and not just talked about in pious homilies. It is what we are about and have always been about. It is the belief of Christendom, it is the historic faith of the Church. It is nothing new, it is as old as salvation. ND
This sermon was preached on 19 June 2015 at All Saints’, Scraptoft, at the launch of The Society in the Diocese of Leicester
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