Thanksgiving – 2015
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 11-26-2015
Today’s Gospel is both a thanksgiving & an invitation: “Come to me all you who labor & are burdened & I will give you rest.”
This Gospel is one of the most explicit expressions of thanksgiving – of gratitude – coming from the heart of Jesus of Nazareth. “I give praise to you Father – “I give thanks to you Father” “I confess – I give witness to you, Father.” Jesus is deeply immersed in this prayer…this is a gratitude that is intimate enough to be both a witness & a revelation.
But…it is important for us to ask… for what is Jesus giving thanks? Is he giving thanks for the peace & prosperity of his People? Yet we know First Century Palestine was a conquered & occupied land? Is he giving thanks for a fulfilled life of companionship of human intimacy? Yet we know “Foxes have dens & the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Is he perhaps giving thanks for a successful ministry; increasing numbers of faithful disciples? Yet again the Gospel tells us “Many left him & did not follow him anymore.”
No, Jesus’ prayer of Thanksgiving is much more mysterious & revealing. It plunges into the center of human life itself – our own lived experience. “I give thanks to you Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise & the clever – you have revealed them to little ones.”
The Father has buried something within our lives; what is this “something” hidden from the wise & the clever – but revealed to little ones? And why is it so precious? It is that alone which can give us rest.
Thomas Merton expressed it in one of the last talks before his death: summing up a lifetime of Monastic experience. “No matter how low you may have fallen in your own esteem, bear in mind that if you delve deeply into yourself you will discover holiness there. A holy spark resides there which, through repentance, you may fan into a consuming flame, which will burn away the dross of unholiness and unworthiness. That spark of holiness is the “yes” which cannot be extinguished….Deep in our hearts is the most profound meaning of our personality, which is that we say “yes” to God, and that spark is always there. All we need to do is turn towards it & let it become a flame. This is the way we are made.”
My brothers & friends, on this Thanksgiving Day I would like to offer another – more natural image of life – our everyday lives – one less socially constructed & more organic. This is the image I see reflected deeply in Jesus’ witness & confession in our Gospel this morning.
Human Life – not as security or achievements – but human life as a river.
Toward the end of his own life our Oregon poet William Stafford published a short collection of River Poems: I read here his November Poem: Ask Me.
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You & I can turn & look
at the silent river & wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings & goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
My Brothers & Sisters, to live a life of gratitude does not require a secure or even prosperous life. To live a life of Gratitude is to be a “little one”… little enough to listen reverently to my life – to turn and look at the silent river & to wait – to know the current is there, hidden.
In our Gospel for this Thanksgiving, Jesus both witnesses & confesses to the essential practice of Gratitude in our lives. Gratitude is the key to the treasure – that hidden Presence buried deep under All the conflicting currents of our daily personal lives.
I will listen to what you say.
You & I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden…
that holds the stillness exactly before us.
I wish for each of you, I pray for us, my friends, that posture – that stillness of Gratitude this Thanksgiving Day.
+ Abbot Peter McCarthy