As a holiday, Thanksgiving is a pleasant and commendable tradition. But the practice of gratitude is difficult. It’s difficult on Wednesday. It’s difficult on Thursday. And it’s especially difficult on Black Friday. There are a myriad of internal and external factors contributing to this difficulty, but unsurprisingly, the Bible presents a vision of thankfulness that soars above the fray.
But first, what is true gratitude? If upon receiving a gift you feel obligated to express your gratitude, is that truly gratitude? Or if the giver of that gift demands your gratitude, is that truly a gift? In order to achieve a pure exchange of gift and gratitude, we must remove all obligation from the equation. Right? Not necessarily.
In his book, Gratitude: An Intellectual History, Peter J. Leithart traces a biblical vision for the expression of gratitude. Thankfulness, according to the New Testament, is demonstrated in the faithful use of the gift given. It’s not so much about giving gifts in return, or even thanking the giver. The Apostle Paul thanked God, not the Philippians, for their generous partnership in the gospel (Philippians 1:3-4). And members of the Church express gratitude to the Holy Spirit by employing His gifts for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). So rather than remove all obligation from the equation, the truest expression of gratitude is to be faithful and fruitful with every gift we’re given.
So, if you’re looking for a tangible way to express your gratitude this Thanksgiving, take a gift you’ve been given by God (in other words, take anything you have) and translate that gift into an act of generosity that will never be repaid. Better yet, translate that gift into an act of generosity that will never be seen. Then, do whatever it takes to gather with the saints this Sunday, and partake joyfully of the Eucharist, the bread and the wine, the body and the blood of Christ. The Greek word eucharistia literally means “thanksgiving,” and by it we celebrate the truest gift ever given, a gift we’re called to faithfully distribute, a gift we’ll never repay.
We depend upon this spiritual meal, which places thanksgiving at the center of Christian living. Thanksgiving is the very theme of our Christ-ordained nourishment. So “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Even if Christ is all you have this holiday season, you are rich indeed.