What is Thanksgiving?
Nothing will be sweeter in heaven than to thank Christ for his Blood by which we have been saved… “How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me (Ps. 116:12) for even as my memory recalls these things, my soul is not repulsed by them? I will love you, O Lord, and thank you, and profess your name, because you have taken from me these evil and reprehensible deeds of mine.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger
If we are taught anything at an early age, it is to say thanks for what we receive, whether it be owed to us in justice, or it be given to us as a gift. Our parents owed us our daily food and we were taught to be thankful for receiving it. It didn’t matter what was brought to us, the point was to be thankful for what was provided in justice. At our early ages, we contributed nothing but were wholly dependent upon our parents for our daily food. It was unmerited and to be received with thanks. That food was provided fulfilled justice, but it was not simply the necessity for life that was provided, but, according to means and capability, the daily food that we were provided was reflective of the love of our parents for us. Our food came not as some amalgamated byproduct to sustain life but to add to life; to make it joyous by eliciting sense responses and emotional reactions – a fancy way to say that it was intended to not just be sustaining but taste good. The food was given in love, not pure justice, and the thanks that came from our receiving changed likewise and became colored with love. Charity begets charity. The giving, the receiving, the evoking of the response, and the thanking are so powerful that it develops a bond, both living and of memory that unites the parent and the child, the giver and the receiver. In our adult lives, there is nothing like “the taste of home” or “Mom’s cooking”.
God creates us without us. We are His and we belong to Him. Our creation is not one of abandonment; brought into being to be exposed to the elements, to die by the wayside of the road. The Lord is just, that is, He doesn’t owe us anything in justice but, being just, He owes Himself. Christ taught us to pray give us our daily bread after we have proclaimed that whatever our Father wills, He does on earth as it is in heaven. Our Father provides for His, because He is just and wills that He so provides. It is manifest that, far from given what is necessary, our Lord provides for us a bounty unimaginable in its splendor. The world around us, its colors, sights, smells, all cry out Glory!, and the very fact that we not only can witness creation’s song of praise but that we can appreciate the song. Creation evokes an internal response of the mind and the soul within the human person – it brings joy. It is from this response of joy that we know that the good things of this earth that are given to us are not given out of justice but out of love. The superabundance of the hills leaping like lambs, and the superabundance of what this evokes within us, tells us of the heights and depths of the God who is love. And so, as we experience the good things of this world, as we taste and see of the delights of the Lord, our thanks becomes coloured with the love that God has given us. The giving, the receiving, the evoking of the response, and the thanking are so powerful that it develops a bond, both living and of memory that unites us more profoundly to our Creator, our Good Father in Heaven.
Yet. The and yet. From the thanksgiving of our daily bread comes the realization that whatever we will, we too often do not do. We should will to receive the good things of God and to be thankful at all times, yet we don’t. We are too often like the babe that refuses to eat, who spurns love, who spurns Divine Charity, to its own detriment because it wants something else. How foolish this is, for what could be better than to receive the things of God which are not only just but are His charity? We cannot do better than He can do, and yet we try.
Our just Father, our charitable Father, in response to our evils, reveals that He is merciful as well. We should desire His daily bread, which is to do His will, yet we harden ourselves by committing those sins that we can and wishing to commit those sins which we do not have the capabilities. God, in His mercy, does not leave us with hearts of ice, abandoned covered in our own blood, but finds us in the howling wastes, cares for us, and wills for us to live. His charity melts our hearts, cleanses us, covers us in His own garments (His laws and commandments), and ultimately washes us in the Blood of His only Son, Christ our Lord. This opens a new door, giving us a heart of flesh, making us a temple of the Holy Spirit, and uniting us to the Son in Mystical Marriage, so that we might partake of the divine life of the Father and praise the Holy Trinity for all eternity. For all of this, our response is that of thanksgiving.
What is thanksgiving? It is the praiseful response of joy of the Beloved to the Lover for the good things that He has given.
Because He wished to grant release from all the ancient debts, the One who pays men’s dues came down Himself to those who had spurned His grace; He tore up their obligations, and heard from all of them this cry: “Alleluia!” — Akathist Hymn to the Theotokos, Eleventh Kontakion.
Giving Thanks, Harry Herman Roseland, circa 1972