If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.-Psalm 107:21, 22
We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection and ascension, we offer you these gifts.
-from Eucharistic Prayer A in the Book of Common Prayer
What does God want from us?
That question gets asked in a variety of ways in the Bible, and in life. What does the Lord require of you? (Micah 6:8) What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Matthew 19:16) What must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30) One friend offered this variation of the question with a bumper sticker on his bulletin board: How much sinning can I do and still go to heaven? One way or another, we all may wonder what’s expected of us.
There are several places in the psalms where it seems that what God wants from us is referred to as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Check out a few examples included above. I ran across that phrase last week. I’ve been puzzling about those two words put together.
I get the thanksgiving piece. It’s a growth opportunity for me, to deepen in gratitude. I try to be intentional about it, whether it’s giving thanks for 5 things a day or 100. I know that such a frame of mind is a good way to live. I’m working on living into that knowledge. Blessings surround us. When we recognize them as gifts, we are led in healthy pathways.
But in what sense is thanksgiving a sacrifice? What comes to mind when you think of sacrifice? Is it about offering? Is it about suffering or deprivation? Is it putting your agenda on back burner? Is it putting something to death? It can easily shift into teeth-gritting Christianity, that un-attractive way of being that says: “Look, O Lord, at all that I have done for you! Look at how much better I am than the rest of the losers around me! How lucky you are to have me on the team!”
When I think of thanksgiving as sacrifice, I wonder if it’s a matter of surrendering the notion that it’s all up to us. Maybe the sacrifice is a recognition that we are who we are because of grace, lest anyone should boast. Maybe the sacrifice of thanksgiving is giving God praise (a.k.a., credit), letting go of the illusion that we merit the goodness we’ve received, by virtue of our virtue, as if it’s a reflection on our particular magnificence. (Such an attitude is not only unattractive. It also separates us from each other.) My wife and spiritual advisor reminds me that ego is really an acronym: edging God out. When we sacrifice the notion that God owes us something, as tempting as that may be, when we simply give thanks, maybe that’s what God wants from us.
Here’s another way to think about. (In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I haven’t figured this out.) Maybe it’s biblical irony, noting that thanksgiving is anything but sacrifice. That’s just another way of saying that all is grace. Maybe a framework that looks at all of life with thankful heart puts to death the idea of sacrifice. God has no interest in our efforts to be more miserable than thou. Jesus came to break that news to us. God is about bringing things to life, not putting things to death.
One of the places that the language of sacrifice of thanksgiving emerges is in the eucharist, in the prayer we say over bread and wine. When we come to worship, when we come to remember what God has done for us, that is the offering God desires. That memory portion of the eucharistic prayer has a technical, Greek name: anamnesis. Not amnesia. Not forgetting. Maybe all God wants from us is to not forget that we have been blessed and are being blessed and will ultimately be blessed forever and that there will be enough blessings to share them with others.
If we can live with that sense of blessing, offering that sacrifice of thanksgiving, we are free to experience all that God has intended for us from the time of creation when God looked at the creation of humankind and said: This is all very good.
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