Thanksgiving Eve – Vicar Schleusener

Grace, mercy, and peace etc.

Thanksgiving. The giving of thanks. But to whom are we to give thanks, what are we giving thanks for, and how do we give thanks? Certainly, we’ve been given many blessings of material goods and prosperity in this country, and it’s always appropriate to thank God for His First Article gifts to us. Food. Clothing. Shelter. Central air that can be used for either heating or cooling. Family and friends.

God has been good to us, and giving Him thanks for this goodness is, in the language of the liturgy, “meet and right.” But if we stop there, and content ourselves with only thanking God for the material blessings He provides us with, we’ll have rather missed the point. And just because many of our countrymen will do exactly that, even if they’re believers, doesn’t mean that we need to do the same. And as it so happens, our assigned Gospel reading for the National Day of Thanksgiving tomorrow points us to the truly great blessings of God that we have the opportunity to thank Him for not just tomorrow, but every day.

The events described in Luke’s account here begin simply enough with Jesus continuing His journey to Jerusalem. A journey that would culminate in His being unjustly but successfully accused before the Roman governor. In His being wrongfully tortured to death upon the cross while He, the Sinless One, bore the sins of the whole world. In His rising three days later as the triumphant Conqueror who had forever defeated sin, death, and the devil.

And as He entered a [certain] village He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Infected with one of a number of dangerous and contagious skin diseases that were referred to in ancient times as “leprosy,” these men were ceremonially unclean and lived as outcasts from all polite society. Sentenced to the living death of what was normally a life-long separation from friends. From family. Separated, in fact, from any person who wasn’t also infected with leprosy.

Though they weren’t willing to give Jesus the title, “Lord,” these men called out for mercy in language that’s very reminiscent of the Kyrie. “Jesus…have mercy on us!” And He who is Lord of both heaven and earth responded very simply. “Having journeyed, show yourselves to the priests.” In other words, they are to journey to Jerusalem, find the priests who can declare them clean, and trust that God will have cleansed them of their leprosy by the time they arrive. The ten men promptly left, and the Holy Spirit, writing through Luke, tells us that “as they went they were cleansed.”

And this is where the narrative gets significantly more interesting. Because one of the ten immediately returned, and this man who glorified God with a loud voice as he was walking back transitioned promptly into falling flat on his face at Jesus’ feet in order to give thanks. Or if we translate the Greek more literally, in order to speak of the good grace that Jesus had given him. And this man wasn’t just any man. No, this man was a Samaritan. Not a man who was simply unclean and cast out of the people of God by virtue of his leprosy, but a man who was unclean and cast out of the people of God by virtue of his ancestry. A man who therefore perfectly represents all of sinful humanity. Because his leprosy corresponds to our sinful actions for which we deserve nothing but death and damnation. And his Samaritan heritage corresponds to our corrupted and sin-loving nature for which we also deserve nothing but death and damnation.

And yet it was this man, this hated outcast, this perfect representation of a sinner, who returned. It was this man who realized that giving glory to God and falling down in worship at the feet of Jesus are one and the same act. Who recognized that the temple of God and the priest who could declare lepers clean was no longer found in Jerusalem but in Jesus. And so this man. This outcast. This sinner, returned to the true temple. To the great High Priest who was even in that moment journeying to Jerusalem to offer the only truly atoning sacrifice. Himself. And as the outcast sinner who had been cleansed by the power of God worshiped Jesus and proclaimed the good grace of God, Jesus spoke to him and said, “After you have risen, journey. Your faith has saved you.”

Not “made you well” as English translations usually put it, but “has saved you.” It’s not just his leprosy that was cleansed, but his sin that was forgiven. He was no longer a leper. No longer an outcast. No longer separated from the people of God. Rather, he had become a sinner saved by the good grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

And like all sinners saved by the good grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, he was called to journey. That is to say, to join the journey that Jesus was already on. The journey to Jerusalem that would see the wrath of God for sinners poured out not on the sinners but on Jesus. On God Incarnate nailed to the cross as an atoning sacrifice. To see the price for the cleansing that was so freely offered to him and on account of which he declared the wondrous good grace of the Lord.

And so we too now come to offer our thanks for what God has done for us. Our eucharist, our acknowledgment of His good grace. Our God-given, awe-filled joy at the perfection of His gift to us. A gift for which the only suitable thanksgiving is the delighted enjoyment of the gift. The gift of His Eucharist, His “good grace” that He offers us in the Sacrament of the Altar. The body of Christ, broken for us. The blood of Christ shed for us. Given to us to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all of our sins. Nothing less than the body and blood of Christ would suffice to take away human sins, and so this very body and blood of Christ are offered to you from this altar today.

This is God’s good grace to us. For we who in our sin were leprous Samaritans have been made pure and holy children of God. Men and women who can cry out “Lord, have mercy upon us” and know that He will answer favorably. Who know that we’re invited to journey with Him wherever He leads us. Who know that the flesh and blood offered to us from the altar aren’t the flesh and blood of a mere man, but the flesh and blood of God Himself who took on human flesh.

And in the face of such good grace, such undeserved favor, we can only humbly acknowledge His goodness to us. Our total dependence on Him. Our delight at both His goodness and His grace. For this is true thanksgiving.

In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.

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