It’s 11pm, the night before Thanksgiving. The house is clean; the table is set; and, the turkey is defrosted. My husband and I will awake at 6am to stoke the fires (okay, turn on the oven) for our family feast. Nieces and nephews, sisters and brothers will arrive in a little more than twelve hours.
This Thanksgiving holiday is a production, with a cast of characters who are set to play their parts. One will bring a vegetarian dish; one, a gluten free dessert; another, the makings for mimosas; another yet the stuffing for the gluten eaters. (We’re a challenging crowd to cook for.) My husband and I will probably repeat at least one of those same twenty arguments that they say married couples have throughout their life together. Our labradoodle Sandy will swipe food off the counter or someone’s plate. If she really scores, we’ll chase her around the table, trying to keep her from overdosing on tryptophan. We’ll cheer for opposing football teams, play charades, and take a group walk through the neighbor. Families, friends, and communities who are blessed with enough resources will produce their own version of this Thanksgiving Theater from east coast to west. Most of us will take at least a few moments to express gratitude to one another and God for the many gifts bestowed upon us this past year.
Gratitude is the essence of Christian life, as we have been taught by John Calvin, Karl Barth, and a whole host of other theologians. Gratitude is the human response to God’s grace. As twin moments in the divine-human encounter, grace and gratitude are inseparable. Just a taste of God’s bounty—that unmerited favor through which we are united to Christ and through Christ to one another—always elicits thankfulness and praise. There simply is no other possible response when the Spirit awakens us to God’s abundant love showered upon us in Jesus Christ. Gratitude sums up the entire disposition and action of the Christian. Covenant people are fundamentally thankful.
Knowledge of grace is itself a gift that cannot be received apart from Word and Spirit. Even our response of gratitude results from grace, not any human effort or innate capacity. Yet at the same time, we can cultivate thankfulness through meditation on scripture, through prayer, and contemplation of God’s glorious theater—the theater of creation, in which each of us has a part to play. So as I participate in my own quirky and beautiful corner of that theater, I’ll be keeping these words of wisdom from Calvin in mind and inviting you to do so as well:
“Meanwhile let us not be ashamed to take pious delight in the works of God open and manifest in this most beautiful theater. For, as I have elsewhere said, although it is not the chief evidence of faith, yet it is the first evidence in the order of nature, to be mindful that wherever we cast our eyes, all things they meet are works of God, and at the same time to ponder with pious meditation to what end God has created them. . . . [In so doing, we shall learn] that he has so wonderfully adorned heaven and earth with as unlimited abundance, variety, and beauty of all things as could possibly be, quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and at the same time the most abundant furnishings” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.14.20).