A few weeks ago, I learned that one of our long-time friends – whose name Jay is on our prayer list—had discovered that he had cancer. He had just retired as a professor at Rocky Mountain College in Montana when he noticed a lump on his neck and discovered that his first summer after retirement was going to pretty much be devoted to chemo.
I woke up one morning thinking about Jay. A good friend, it had been decades since we had seen one another and now here I was thinking about him in a way that I took to be an invitation from the Holy Spirit to reach out. I sent him an email and a poem.
I remembered that Jay had been in a one car accident in which he had nearly been killed but remained unscathed. He had faced death before. This led to a poem that I included as I remembered this incident. The poem and the email I sent out into the long silence of many years.
And now just this week, Jay wrote back. He shared that he had leukemia of an undifferentiated type and that, although the tumor was shrinking, most of the time it felt like the cancer was doing just fine, but the rest of me, he said, was being disassembled.
I wondered how I would do in the vise grip of cancer. I have listened to some of you describe your own journey with this illness either now or in the past and have both respected and admired your faith and honesty and courage.
We support one another in the journey. But how would I react? Would I ever be able to approach this illness with any measure of positive energy. Would I be down and out spiritually? And especially, in the midst of struggle, I wondered if I would ever be able to muster up any gratitude.
Our second lesson from Ephesians puts the issue of gratitude squarely before us this morning. Note this powerful and practical advise.
And do not be drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual song, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
This verse is a two-part heavy hitter. First of all we have material that arises out of the context of worship. We are to be filled with the holy spirit but notice that it comes in the form of worship when the community gathers. The church in worship addresses one another and notice how this addressing takes place. It takes the form of psalms, of hymns and songs, of singing in which addressing one another we make melody to the Lord, the source of our lives and the source of our common life together in Christ Jesus.
Worship is a place of gratitude and indeed the very name of the service that we share together Sunday by Sunday is built on the word eucharist which is a Greek term for the giving of thanks. This is a holy that is a separate and distinctive thanksgiving in which we lift up our hearts and give thanks specifically to the Lord.
But notice that final portion of this verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians– always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.
Always. We are invited to do this to the point of doing it always. Not leaving gratitude here in the pews or after we leave the church. Not leaving gratitude alone when we enter into our work week. Not abandoning gratitude when we journey to the hospital or the clinic. Not forgetting gratitude when a lump (metaphorically or physically) shows up in our lives to take us in new directions. Not leaving it on the pillow in the morning when I rise and feel very ungrateful and thankless.
I have discovered in my own life that I am not very good at gratitude. And so Betty Jo’s habit of listing things for which I am grateful has been a wonderful thing, even recently, when I have been engaged in negative thinking. She told me and has told many of you that she lists things for which she is grateful. And, if I remember correctly, she does this in the morning, before rising.
The very habit of trying to specifically list things is important to being grateful. I have found that unless I cultivate gratitutde, I miss it. It disappears and instead my cup is half empty and I am a negative thinker. But when I list specific things, I invite myself to discover the things in my life for which I can be grateful and my spirit rises like a phoenix from the ashes of self negativity.
Specific things matter when it comes to gratitude. Simple things. Personal things. Vulnerable things listed – all of these things matter. To be thankful is to be specifically grateful not blandly and generally and vaguely grateful.
And so, in spite of its awkwardness, I invite you to be specific; to make lists; to cultivate gratefulness. As they say in AA: Fake it until you make it. That is, spiritually, grow into gratitude. Do not passively and wistfully wish for it and thereby make gratitude itself a negative because you are missing it and it has not yet arrived. Instead plant the seed and cultivate the crop.
In our Gospel lesson, we have one more reading from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John where the emphasis is again upon Jesus being the bread of life. The reading here once more lifts up the perspective of holy communion in which we repeat the words of institution of the lord’s supper. That is, we remember that Jesus took bread and wine, gave thanks, gave to his followers and then said take eat and drink.
The Eucharistic service is part of what we call The Liturgy. And the basic definition for liturgy is simply this: Liturgy is defined as the work of the people. That is, when we worship, we do this together. We pray and sing songs and present gifts unto the Lord. And then we enter into a time of prayerful remembrance in which we remember that this grace, this Spirit and Presence does not come inexpensively. In fact, it cost Jesus his very life. And all of this is the work of the people s we gather and address one another and worship.
Each Sunday I announce a Eucharistic prayer. Occasionally we have used prayer C or D but most often B or A. Let us look at Prayer A for a moment. You’ll find it on 361.
Salutation It begins with a salutation. That is, it begins with a simple greeting and a response. The Lord be with you// And also with you. Some have suggested that this was used as a sign and countersign in the early Church when the church was being persecuted and infiltrated by spies. House churches were used often.
Sursum Corda This greeting then flows into what is known as the Sursum Corda. Corda is a latin term that relates to hearts and sursum is a term that binds or gathers up. And so the two together are the binding up or gathering of our hearts. Our hearts are lifted up. And so notice the pattern
Lift up your hearts We lift them to the Lord.
One early Greek version of this prayer from the 2nd century, that is sometime after the year 100 and before the year 200 states this prayer even more dramatically
Up with your hearts We have them with the Lord.
Notice how this binding of hearts or lifting up of hearts concludes:
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
Here we have introduced early in the service of Holy Communion the notion, the theme of thanksgiving. If you look at this page you also will notice that this section is called The Great Thanksgiving. Gratitude is an essential part of worship.
The next portion of the service involves two parts of the Eucharistic Prayer known as the Preface. One part is specific and involves material specific to the Sunday. This is known as the Proper Preface and often in the church year these proper prefaces are reflective of the church year. The proper preface is not listed in Prayer A on page 362 but the general preface is. It begins with the phrase Therefore we praise you…Together these two prayers bring us to one of the ancient parts of the prayer service, The Sanctus.
You see the Sanctus on page 362 as it begins with Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might. We often sing sanctus together and lift up our praise in song. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord is a reference to Jesus and we cross ourselves and perhaps bow slightly to honor his presence and his name.
Then the Eucharistic Prayer contines with a post-Sanctus prayer, a general transitional prayer that reminds us of the great story of creation, sin, love and redemption. This prayer gets us to thinking in cosmic terms and reminds us not only of the fact that God came in Christ to share our human nature and that Jesus the Christ offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. God comes to redeem the world, the cosmos. God’s work is not done and God’s presence in the Holy Spirit is a sign that God is working still.
The words of institution come next. Here the priest presents the bread and the wine separately. He states the words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He makes the sign of the cross and blesses the bread and wine so that they become elements. God is present here and as we remember these things we bring them into our present so that bread and wind, body and blood, healing presence forgiveness all become available because the Lord is here, mysteriously and powerfully, to claim us once more and make us his.
On page 363 we join together in what is known as a Memorial Acclamation. An acclamation is a shout, a shout of joy in which we remember that Christ has died, is risen and will come again. God is present, God is active and God is not through.
As the prayer continues, we find these words: We celebrate the memorial of our redemption O Father in this sacricie of praise and thanksgiving. We remember and we recall. Again we make what is known as a sacrifice or outpouring. This out pouring is one of joy and gratitude and praise.
And then there is what is known as the oblation. That is, we make an offering. We present bread and wine and ask the Holy Spirit to come down and to sanctify these simple things, so that the very presence of God is in these things. This prayer is known as the epiclesis — the coming down of the Spirit to bless and be present.
Our Eucharistic prayer is almost over. We are almost ready to come forward and to receive. But some important things remain.
One is the doxology. Again this is found on page 363 and it begins with All this we ask. Notice that this is a triune prayer. It is followed by the Our Father and then we come to the Faction, the breaking of the bread and the proclamation Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.
The prayer is now over and the gifts are presented to the people and we are ready to receive bread and wine at the altar.
Here at St Andrew’s we all receive the bread. If you want to receive the bread alone, when the cup is presented simply cross your arms. If you want to receive the bread by having it dipped in the wine, simply hold the bread in your hands and the chalice bearer will intinct it with wine. Grape juice also will have been blessed and is available. The priest and not the chalice bearer will then bring grape juice. If the wine comes first, simply refuse it.
To sum up, gratitude can take many forms. Most importantly it needs to find a home in our lives. We also discover gratitude right here as we worship. And together we lift up grateful hearts in this service of praise and thanksgiving.
I invite you now to turn with me to page 125. Here is another prayer of gratitude that sums up much of our thankfulness to God. As we conclude this sermon, let us pray this prayer together.