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The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Fr. David Curry

AD 1999

Galatians 5:25f     St. Luke 17:11f

“And one...turned back...giving him thanks”


In returning and giving thanks we are made whole.  Such is salvation.  It is also our freedom.  The burden of thanksgiving, we might say, is precisely our freedom.  It is our freedom in Christ. 


The giving of thanks cannot be coerced.  In the story of the ten lepers, one - and only one, Jesus is at pains to remind us - returned to give thanks.  All were healed but only the one who returned and gave thanks is said to be made whole.  His returning is a free act by which he signals that he is more than just the recipient of an healing act.  He acknowledges the God who heals and restores, the God who has mercy and saves. 


And one of them when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks. 


His returning and giving thanks puts him in the presence of Christ in his love for the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit.  Thus he enters into the radical meaning of his healing.  Its radical meaning is that our ultimate good for both soul and body is found in the presence of Christ in his will for us. 


In returning and giving thanks, he enters into the very motions of God’s love towards us in Christ Jesus.  The reciprocity of divine love is the life of the Trinity opened to view in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ.  In the giving of thanks he wills what God wills for us.  Salvation is not otherwise. 


His returning and giving thanks is not something commanded.  It is not coerced.  Thanksgiving is not thanksgiving at all if it is forced.  It is freely given or it is not thanksgiving at all.  Thanksgiving is at once totally our doing and yet totally God’s doing in us.  God’s grace in us is our freedom.  It is our freedom to will what God wills for us.  God will not have it any other way. 


Our thanks to God and to one another for whatever we have received is a free act.  But we also think of it as an obligation, something we owe to one another.  It has the quality of necessity about it as well.  And so it is.  Our freedom lies in the necessity, in our accepting that necessity as what is proper to us, as true to whom we properly are, as belonging, in fact, to the God-given dignity of our humanity. 


That we can return and give thanks is the free acknowledgement that there is someone to whom we can return and give thanks.  Even more, it participates in something more wonderful and profounder.  Our giving thanks to God participates in the Son’s thanksgiving to the Father in the Spirit of their mutual and perfect love.  Thanksgiving is at the heart of the Christian gospel and so it is at the heart of the Christian life, to our “walking in the spirit”


You see, thanksgiving captures something of the meaning of the Son whose whole life, eternal and incarnate, is oriented towards the Father.  In our returning and giving thanks we participate in the Son’s thanksgiving to the Father in the bond of the Holy Spirit. 


Last Sunday the Gospel presented us with The Parable of the Good Samaritan.  Here in this Gospel the one who returns and gave thanks is, once again, a Samaritan.  The simple point is that the Samaritans were outsiders - the despised and the rejected of the Jewish culture.  They become in the Gospel the very examples of the love of God which has reached beyond the barriers of human divisions and come near to us and which becomes actual in us, moving our hearts and souls whither they would not be moved before.  There is no inside track to God.  Salvation is not genetically possessed nor is it a denominational possession.  No.  It can only be what is freely entered upon because of what has been freely given.  The task for us as members of the body of Christ is to will what we have been given to see and know, to love and praise; in short, to return and give thanks. 


The Samaritan’s actions may seem a trifle excessive and yet his actions belong precisely to the very character of our patterns of worship, to prayer and praise.  Our liturgy would have us fall on our knees and call out for mercy in the free acknowledgement of the mercy that has been shown to us in Christ Jesus.  There, in him, we see the extravagant, indeed, the excessive love, the love that is more than love, the love that reaches down and enters in that we may be raised up, healed, restored, forgiven and set in motion, the same motions of love compelling us. 


For in the free act of thanksgiving we do not and cannot presume upon ourselves but only upon the mercy of God in Jesus Christ who seeks not only our healing but our wholeness - our being truly and wholly in him and he in us.  This is what we pray for before Communion in The Prayer of Humble Access.  After receiving the Sacrament, we don’t simply rush out the door.  No.  Like the Samaritan in today’s Gospel we return to our pews to give thanks in The Prayer of Thanksgiving which follows The Lord’s Prayer, and then we stand “to give glory to God” in the Gloria.  Such is the burden of thanksgiving.  Such is our freedom.  We enter into the glory that has been revealed. 


We are caught up, as Jeremy Taylor puts it, in “the amiable captivity of the Spirit”.  It is our freedom to be so caught up.  We are called to “walk in the spirit” at once “bearing one another’s burdens” and so fulfilling the law of Christ - his life forming the pattern of our lives - but also “bearing our own burdens”, the burdens of thanksgiving, it seems to me.  That seeming paradox is the quality of the Son’s thanksgiving at work in us in our loving service towards one another through our love towards God.  We are set in motion by the love that has been shown to us - in motion towards the stranger and the friend and in motion towards God.  Such is the love of God at work in us.  It belongs to our freedom and our dignity; the freedom to return and give thanks to the God who has turned to us.  Thanksgiving is our freedom and our salvation. 


“And one...turned back...  giving him thanks”