The Wardrobe of Easter: Gratitude
To be human is to be aware that life—one’s own life—is a sheer and undeserved gift from God. It is to revel and delight in its giftedness and to return thanks to the Giver. When the Giver hears an echo of gratitude, the circle becomes complete. Thus gratitude is an essential feature of living up to what God intended for his humans creatures when he made them.
In his Christian classic, Holy Living and Holy Dying (1651), Jeremy Taylor sets forth features of a godly person:
He walks as in the presence of God [who]
Converses with him in frequent prayer and frequent communion,
Runs to him in all his necessities,
Asks counsel of him in all his doubtings,
Opens all his wants to him,
Weeps before him for his sins,
Asks remedy and support for his weakness,
Fears him as a judge,
Reverences him as a lord,
Obeys him as a father, and
Loves him as a patron.
“Loves him as a patron.” What an interesting phrase. A patron is one who gives. She supports persons, institutions or causes—say, an artist or a museum—in order to make their life and work possible and to secure their future. A patron gives generously—she lavishes. Patrons thus imitate God, the original Giver from whom all blessings freely flow.
Returning thanks to the Giver
To be human is to be aware that life—one’s own life—is a sheer and undeserved gift from God. It is to revel and delight in its giftedness and to return thanks to the Giver. When the Giver hears an echo of gratitude, the circle becomes complete. Thus gratitude is an essential feature of living up to what God intended for his humans creatures when he made them. Dullness of spirit, on the other hand, plodding joylessly and ungratefully through life as though it were a monotonous drill—that attitude is foolishly perverse.
In three staccato commands in Colossians 3.15-17, St. Paul calls Jesus’ followers to put on gratitude daily as part of their resurrection apparel: “And be thankful (3.15)…with gratitude in your hearts to God (3.16)….giving thanks to God the Father through [Jesus Christ] (3.17).”
Grateful for what?
What to be grateful for? Well, “…for all his goodness…,” as the psalmists never tire of reminding us (cf. Psalm 116.12; 103; 150).
But for starters, here are three gifts God has given to every believer. They’re so basic and common that often we overlook the fact that they’re sheer and good gifts from our Heavenly Father’s generous hand.
1. Human life itself, and our own exquisitely small but magnificently important time and place within it.
We are, each of us, a masterpiece of our Creator’s grand artistry (cf. Psalm 139, Ephesians 2.10). “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution,” Benedict XVI reminded his hearers in his 2006 inaugural papal message. “Each of us is a result of the thought of God. Each of us is loved, each of us is willed, each of us is necessary.” What a breath-takingly wonderful view of (our) life—and a solid foundation for our self-esteem.
2. Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. As we sing: “And when I think, that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul … ”
3. The Church, Jesus’ beloved Bride. While faith in Jesus Christ is personal, it is not individual. Believers belong to one another because, together, they belong to Jesus. Together they can share one another’s pains, and thus divide them. Together they can share one another’s joys, and thus multiply them. Together, they can affirm common belief and work in common mission. Together they walk as pilgrims who follow a common Lord. ”A person achieves her or his self-identity,” said Henry Stob, a former Calvin philosophy professor, “when [they] insinuate [themselves] into a community, a history, a tradition, an encompassing whole.”
Sunday worship and giving thanks
When they gather for Sunday worship, Christians set their minds and hearts toward doing as they ought—to tell God thanks. Together their mouths declare what their hearts affirm:
“It is fitting for us to give thanks. It is right and fitting, our joy and our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, almighty, everlasting God, through Christ our Lord.”
But healthy Christians also express their gratitude personally. They aim each day to live—and one day to die—saying “Thanks, thanks—and thanks.”
Aware that his days on earth were soon to end, pastor and priest Richard Neuhaus summoned up memory and reviewed his life:
“It’s been a long trip—as I said, almost seven decades long—which, I hope, has miles more to go before I sleep. When I look back over my shoulder there are some regrets, many saints, some incredible moments, and a depth of gratitude I cannot fully describe.”
“A depth of gratitude I cannot fully describe.” What a fitting response from one who knew he belonged to God, and who saw every day as a gift from his Father’s hand. His testimony invites us to join him in living fully human and fully alive every day, and to end each day with a prayerful exclamation point of gratitude.
“The name of the Lord is worthy of praise” In response, the Christian church prays: “Hallowed be your name”:
Lord, help us to really know you,
to bless, worship, and praise you
for all your works
and for all that shines forth from them:
your almighty power, wisdom, kindness
justice, mercy, and truth.
Help us, too, to direct all our living—
What we think, say, and do—
So that your name will never be blasphemed because of us
But always honored and praised.
(Heidelberg Catechism, #122)
Hymn: Now Thank We All Our God
Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom the world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is our today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven—
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Words: Martin Rinkart, 1636; tr. Catherine Winkworth, alt., P.D.
This series was written to be read in the following order: