Thanksgiving: Your Lenten Spiritual Discipline

When it comes to Lent, it is clear that most people regard the season’s focus on penitence, sorrow for their sins, sorrow for the human condition, guilt for things that they have done and left undone. Some regard it as a time of giving up some enjoyed pleasure such as chocolate, or struggling with some vice such as cigarettes and booze. To the wider world, which generally thinks of Christians as people who have no fun in life, it seems that Lent is the season that Christians particularly revel in making themselves miserable.
I would like to set the record straight.
Thanksgiving forms the basis of our Lenten Discipline. It is meet, right and your bounden duty at all times and in all places to give thanks to God for all the blessings that you have received at his hands. More particularly, if you took at all seriously the message of the gospel, your life would be overflowing with a sense of gratitude and love for God.
And why would that be? It would be that way because you have been given the gift of salvation. It would be because you would come to fully appreciate that you live even now in that quality of life in the fullness of the spirit, participating in the gift of eternal life. As Saint Paul reminds you in Romans chapter 8, you would realize that there is nothing that separates you ever from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, if those words from scripture mean anything in Jesus Christ, our Lord, would they not show up in your profound sense of thankfulness? Or have you heard it so often that you have become an ingrate?
In all classical teachings about prayer, it is made clear that the beginning point of prayer is the recognition of our profound need of the grace of God. The beginning point is self-examination and confession. That is true in the writings of Thomas a Kempis in the Imitation of Christ, in Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, the Salesian and Ignatian methods of meditation; it is true in the teachings on prayer by the early Fathers from the Philokalia.
But what all those sources make clear is that the point of such penitence is not all about you. It is not all about your sinfulness, your unworthiness, your brokenness. It is actually about God: his love, his grace, his forgiveness. In all those sources about prayer, all the writers make it clear that you are to move from confession and penitence immediately to thanksgiving and the contemplation of God’s grace and love for you. You are not called to be obsessed with sin; you are called to be obsessed with grace. Awareness of sin is pointless if you do not use that opportunity to turn our lives in the direction of grace and be filled with overflowing gratitude to God for his gift of love, grace and salvation given freely to you.
Frankly if you do not make the transition in your own spiritual life to thanksgiving, then you have fundamentally set at naught the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for your benefit.
Your Lenten Discipline is therefore to be thankful, fully aware of the ways in which the love and grace of God are made available to you.
Canon Greg+


About canongreg

I have been Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Wellsboro, PA since 1994.
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