Reflections: Continual Thanksgiving
Tonight we are excited to introduce a new feature on our blog, reflections by our friends and volunteers! In this first edition, volunteer Joe Stout reflects on Eucharistos, one of our Camp Celebrate themes for 2019!
"Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of the perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption, and gift of heaven." -Fr. Alexander Schmemann
As I prepared to write this reflection, I found myself drawn to this quote from Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann. Indeed, if anyone knows about Thanksgiving, it is Fr. Schmemann, who gave his final sermon, on thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving day before passing away two weeks later. He is a man who lived a life of thanksgiving, a life of eucharistos, that was reflected in many of his talks and writings.
Thinking about this quote, I find myself reminded of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:
"Let joy be your continual feast. Make your life a prayer. And in the midst of everything be always giving thanks, for this is God’s perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus." (The Passion Translation)
This passage and Fr. Schmemann's quote seem to go hand in hand. The verses tell us what to do, and the quote expands on it, telling us why this is indeed God's perfect plan for us.
We start by making joy our continual feast. Famed author Ernest Hemingway described the city of Paris as a "movable feast," and joy is much the same way. We can find Joy anywhere we care to look, in the face of a small child, in a beautiful landscape, watching animals play, or lifting our voices to the Lord. Joy is our natural response to the glory of the creation that surrounds us. It is a sign of an active life in Christ, because it is impossible to feel the inherent wonder of the world around us without our hearts being filled with joy for being allowed to be part of it.
When we are feasting on this joy, our hearts unconsciously and wholly cry out to God, giving praise and thanksgiving. We cannot help but praise God when we find ourselves surrounded by the glorious evidence of his existence, and His perfect plan for us.
Consider, for a moment, the grains of sand on a beach, the leaves in a tree, or the blades of grass in a field. Does it fill you with wonder to know that each of these small, seemingly insignificant objects play a role in God's perfect plan for us? And yet each of these are but a small part of the world that surrounds us, the demonstration of God's brilliance. In the face of this, how can we help but find ourselves continually praying and offering thanksgiving to the Creator of all?
This continual prayer of thanksgiving is the heart of eucharistos. Let's take a look at the
quote we started with, but with a small substitution:
Continual Thanksgiving is the state of the perfect man. Continual Thanksgiving is the life of paradise. Continual Thanksgiving is the only full and real response of man to God's creation, redemption, and gift of heaven."
Or put another way:
Continual Thanksgiving is God's perfect plan for you in Christ Jesus.
Think about the last five minutes. Have you given thanks for anything? Stop reading for a moment, think of something you are thankful for, and give thanks for it. It doesn't have to be a big thing. It can even be a little ridiculous. God doesn't care. Continual thanksgiving is about giving thanks for everything, from the life-changing to the mundane.
Eucharistos elevates our lives from the mundane to the continual reality of paradise. When we live in continual thanksgiving, the little things no longer bother us. Giving thanks in every breath makes us appreciate what we have been given, instead of longing for the things we want. It calls us closer to God, who is the ultimate cause for thanksgiving in his sending of his son to die for us, that we might fully live.
I want to leave you with another quote from Fr. Schmemann, the conclusion of his final sermon. In his illness, standing before his church, he offered the following statement that I think reflects true eucharistos, a thanksgiving prayer I find myself constantly contemplating and trying to live out:
"Lord, it is good to be here. Amen."