St Stephen’s Lewisham
18th February 2007
The General Thanksgiving
2: The Supernatural
‘The means of grace and the hope of glory’
This is the second of two homilies on that prayer called The General Thanksgiving which one often used to hear in Church of England services.
Last Sunday we considered why we should thank God ‘for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life’. What might be called the natural things of life. So let me remind you what I said at the end:
[A]s we shall see next week, [thanking God for our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life] isn’t the whole story. God’s most important gift is something quite different – something super-natural, something, so far as we know, which can only be obtained by doing it in company with others – thanking God in the Eucharist which simply means ‘thanksgiving’ – the very thing we are now doing together within these four walls.
So this Sunday we shall be thinking about this other (and more important) part of the story – the super-natural, the means of grace and the hope of glory’ as the Thanksgiving calls it. It’s something to which few people except churchgoers give much thought to, though, curiously, they seem unable to ignore it completely. Let me explain:
Have you noticed how often people say ‘Thank God!’ when they are told some piece of good news about their own welfare, or the wellbeing of someone they love. When the surgeon tells them that their operation has been successful and the lump he removed was benign; when the husband hears that his wife has been rescued by the local lifeboat from drowning after a sailing accident; to the mother whose child has been saved by the fire brigade when their house caught fire; to the wife whose husband’s life has been saved by the prompt action of the paramedics after a car crash.
‘Thank God!’, they all say. Not ‘thank the National Health Service!’; not ‘thank the Fire Brigade!’; just ‘thank God!’ Moreover, these may well be people who if asked under normal circumstances if they believed in God would either say ‘No’ or ‘I’m not sure’.
Curious, isn’t it? Yet in a sense they are paying a compliment to you and me and others who do undoubtedly believe in God and confess Jesus Christ His Son as their Saviour and Lord. For by saying ‘Thank God!’ they are in fact admitting that the very Being whom we worship might actually exist. For practical purposes they ignore His existence in their everyday lives; but when trouble comes, they recognize, however dimly, that the Supernatural is a reality, not just a comfortable idea to support people who feel inadequate. These people’s idea of God, be it a He a She or a They, will be different from yours and mine. For we believe ourselves to be His children by adoption and grace. But in that one moment of enlightenment, the curtain which hides Him from their eyes is momentarily drawn aside and they admit, however inadequately, that He has the power to heal and save.
Now for us, who believe on His Name, it is bound to be different. And this difference is best summed up in that phrase we heard earlier – ‘the means of grace and the hope of glory’.
The General Thanksgiving insists that above all we should thank God for these two things – more than our Creation, Preservation and all the blessings of this life which we considered last week. It is His inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ that supremely deserves our thanks.
Now that fact is, if one may so put it, rather embarrassing. For it means that our ungodly friends and relations, however virtuous, however nice, however caring, however much we love them, have simply ‘missed the boat’. Of course God hasn’t told us how He intends to deal eventually with those who intentionally ignore Him, beyond making it clear to us that it is our responsibility, not just His, to persuade them to come on board with us.
Comparing the Church to God’s lifeboat rescuing drowning people is a useful one. In our Baptism you and I were pulled by our Saviour out of the waters of death and taken on-board into God’s service for eternal life. The Church has been likened to Noah’s Ark; part of the church building is called the Nave which comes from the Latin word for ‘ship’; and the journey we begin at our baptism like the pilgrimage which many of you have been on to places like the Holy Land, Lourdes, Fatima, Rome and elsewhere. We have now become part of the crew and it is with the idea of us as God’s fellow-sailors that we shall be concerned this morning.
The first thing to say is that God’s ship is no ‘pleasure cruiser’. We are on board God’s ship not because we have ‘paid our passage’ and expect to be amused in return, nor because He has taken a particular fancy to us as individuals, but because He chose to save us and then invited us to join his crew.
Secondly, we’re not passengers, to be pampered and indulged at every turn; on the contrary, we’re on a Lifeboat, being trained by him to save others..
Thirdly, like good seamen we shouldn’t expect to like all our fellow crew all the time. We have been, literally, ‘thrown together’ by God, not because of our likeableness, but because He saw us all drowning and was moved with compassion towards us. In return, He expects us at the very least to parade together at least once a week at our Captain’s Table to receive our allowance of Saving Grace and Heavenly Food.
Fourthly, our Captain expects us to learn how to do our job properly. An ill-trained, or ill-disciplined crew is a recipe for disaster. There is no surer way a ship or a church going ‘on the rocks’ if it is manned by people who don’t know how to read a map or the Bible (as the case may be), or who have no idea where they are heading for.
So, as the last and most precious of His gifts to us God has given us ‘The Hope of Glory’. That gift, for which it is impossible to be too grateful, tells us that our final destination lies not in this world but in Heaven. That’s not to say that we can afford to opt out of this world, with its trials and tribulations, but that we must be always keeping our eyes on our destination – the Vision of God, ‘looking towards Jesus, the author an perfecter of our faith’.
Sea-travel is notoriously uncomfortable. Many of you here today have experienced, or are still experiencing rough seas in your lives. It’s the business of each of us to enable our fellow-Christians to keep alive and alight that ‘Hope of Glory’ until together with them we shall reach our true home – that ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.
So the General Thanksgiving begins by reminding us to be grateful for the natural things like Creation and Preservation; but it emphatically goes on to insist that, unless we are continually thankful for the means of grace and for the hope of glory, we shall be tempted to jump overboard and end up in the briny. So it ends by reminding us of our duty to ‘show forth [God’s] praise not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to [His] service and by walking before [Him] in holiness and righteousness all our days.
So let me finish by reading you this wonderful prayer all over again: Do join again if you remember how it goes!
The General Thanksgiving
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 show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.