Saint Stephen's Lewisham
11th October 1998 Week 28 Year 3
2 Kings 5: 14-17
2 Thessaloniains 2 8-13
Luke 17: 11-19
"Finding himself cured, one of them turned back and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan".
Today's gospel offers us an opportunity to think about thanksgiving.
Most of us would agree that learning to say "Please" and "Thank You" is something which we try very hard to teach our children; and yet if we were honest it's not something which we do all that often in our prayers to God, especially saying "Thank You" to him. Only one out of the 10 lepers whose life was changed by Jesus turned back and thanked him.
This is all the more strange because in our case the service which we are taking part in is called "the Eucharist" which literally means "The Thanksgiving". So we get plenty of practice in learning how to do it together, corporately which ought to make us champion Thanks-givers one and all. Yet when we go our separate ways, how seldom we remember to put it into practice!
It's like going to evening classes to learn how to paint pictures but never touching a paintbrush during the rest of the week till the next lesson. Attending what you might call "Thank-God" classes on Sunday mornings is a bit of a waste of time if we never thank him during the six other days.
That's the problem we shall consider this morning, and like most problems there are practical steps we can take to do something about it. The particular one which I have found helpful is a prayer called the General Thanksgiving which some of you may have once learnt by heart. It's written in old-fashioned English, but some of us find that makes it easier, not more difficult, to remember it.
First a brief word about its history. In 1662 some Church of England bishops met at the Savoy Palace in the Strand, not far from where Waterloo Bridge stands today, to discuss how the English Prayer Book might be improved.
One of the bishops, Reynolds of Norwich, pointed out that there were no prayers of thanksgiving in it apart from the Eucharist. His fellow bishops did what people typically do when someone makes a good suggestion: they told Reynolds to go away and write one! We don't know if he regretted making that suggestion and landing himself with the job; we do know that he produced the following gem.
"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"
So it begins by firmly placing us in the position of "unworthy servants" who nevertheless want to give thanks to God for his good deeds.
Which is, of course, precisely the way in which we start the Mass. We confess to God that we are unworthy and having been assured of his forgiveness we start thanking him in the Gloria "we worship you we give you thanks we praise you for your Glory".
Next we turn to the Liturgy of the Word. The Old Testament begins with the story about Creation and continues with an account of God's providence towards his chosen people, continually sustaining them and preserving them from all the perils which surround them.
Reynolds’ Thanksgiving echoes this theme as it goes on to say "We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life."
It then goes on to the very heart of the Christian mystery for it continues:
"but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ".
This is what we call the Gospel, and the third reading at Mass: and it is always with a passage from one of the four Gospels that the Liturgy of the Word ends. As St Paul reminds us in the second reading today, the faith is about to "the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.
Here also the General Thanksgiving takes up the same theme. It thanks God not only for his redemption of us in Christ Jesus but also "for the means of grace and for the hope of glory".
The "means of grace" are the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion which God has given us. In a few minutes we shall be participating in one of these. Jesus has shown us how to give thanks to God, our Heavenly Father and his, not just by word of mouth but by taking bread and wine and copying what he did at the Last Supper.
We do this, as the General Thanksgiving says, "in the hope of glory", that is, we are taught to expect that by following the example of Christ we shall come to participate in the glory that is his since the world began. Our message, St Paul says, he's "Christ in you, the hope of glory".
But the Mass isn't some kind of magic which will, so to say, "do its staff" regardless of how we approach it. The General Thanksgiving says this in so many words.
"and we beseech thee give us their new sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful."
It's not good enough, in other words, just saying "Thank You" though that's a step in the right direction. Being thankful is the real aim of what we are doing in the Mass. After we have received the means of grace in the Sacrament of the Mass it points us outwards to the world of everyday things and the very last words we hear are "go in peace, to love and serve the Lord".
Reynolds’ Thanksgiving is even more specific for it continues "and that we show 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, through Jesus Christ our Lord".
In other words we are "sent out" (from Mass) into the world in the power of the Spirit to live and work to God's praise and glory.
You will no doubt have realised by now that the General Thanksgiving so-to-say "shadows" the Mass at every one of its important points. In fact you might describe it as "a little Mass in words".
Therein lies its value for us. We can't always get to Mass as often as we like to say "thank you" to God in the particular way he has chosen. But what we can do is to say the General Thanksgiving as a sort of Mini-Mass in our homes or in the way to work.
For in this single gem of the English language, Bishop Reynolds of Norwich has provided us with all the words we need to say to express our thanks to God.
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