When I first starting walking the labyrinth as a way to focus my prayer, one of the things that struck me was just how many twists and turns and the path took before I reached the center. With some practice, these turns and changes, quickly became my favorite part of this style of prayer, because with each twist and turn, I would turn and face the center and give thanks to God for all the ways in which, no matter how many changes or unexpected turns my life has taken, I have continually been drawn closer and closer to God. Because like on the labyrinth, even when I feel very far removed from the center, no matter how far God’s peace seems, I know that it is still present, and that it’s on this path that the abundance of God’s grace and love that has kept me going when it seemed like I ought to stop.
Today is a unique day in our secular and religious world; Thanksgiving is not just a national holiday, but also, for Episcopalians, at least, a major feast day and one of the few Holy Days named in our prayer book for which we should take time to celebrate. But it’s also an interesting and unique day because it falls squarely between the old and the new. Last Sunday we gave thanks on the last Sunday after Pentecost, and next Sunday we will give thanks for a new year as we turn toward Advent and the waiting for the Christ child. Today is an in-between day; it’s a day to pause and take stock of your life and faith before we begin again.
Our Epistle passage today from St. Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It’s one of my favorites not because it is descriptive of the reality of Christians everywhere, but because it is aspirational. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” There are certainly days wherein which it is easier to rejoice, but rejoicing all the time seems nearly impossible. But what Paul is exhorting this young Christian church to do is not to negate the difficulties of their life, but rather to sit with them, know them, and still find reasons, as he has as he writes this letter from jail, to rejoice.
As we come to God in joy and in thanksgiving, we know that “the Lord is near,” as Paul says and that God’s peace will surpass all understanding, as we spend our lives meditating on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and worthy of praise. So today as we give thanks for all that we have and all that we are, let us pause on this in-between day to offer the Great Thanksgiving, and remember that thanksgiving changes us. It changes us not because of what we have received but because gratitude forms us and molds us into better Christians.
We come to today’s table not as folks who have proved our worthiness of God’s gift, but as those in deep need and in abiding gratitude for all the ways in which even as the world is in chaos around us, we are able to, as St. Paul says, rejoice again and again and again in Lord always.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Thanksgiving Day 2019, Year C, on Philippians 4:4-9.