By Stephen Leonard
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
No one yet has had a H-Haul attached to their hearse or a backpack strapped to their body while they wing their way to heaven or hell. So what is it you take with you beyond the grave?
Either the burden of unforgiven sins or the grace of God in Jesus Christ; either hate for others or the expression of love for them, the same with which you love yourself. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
Hate is a word that carries with it more than what you assume. It is more than antipathy for another. It is, as well, a conscious disinterest in them. You simply do not care. This is just as hateful as your wrath. Boredom toward others is worse than antipathy for them.
You do take with you from this earth your gratitude for others, especially your praise and worship of the God who made you, sustains you, and saves you by His grace. God is your greatest “other.” He is primary, but He is also Who spurs you to show to others what, in fact, He makes known to you; that is, to love others the same as He has loved you. This is what constitutes thanksgiving, which we celebrate with a feast next week.
In the novel by Izak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast, one of her characters, General Loewenhielm, gives an exquisite speech to the partakers of the magnificent feast set before them; a feast prepared by Babette simply because she greatly desired to display her superb talents as a chef to those who do not know enough, except for General Loewenhielm, to appreciate the fabulous meal they are eating fully. Babette prepares this exquisite meal, she says, for her fulfillment, but yet she is genuinely doing it “for others just as she would herself.”
In eating the meal with thanksgiving, they experience transformation in loving their neighbor. Old grievances disappear. Love dissipates their coldness and aloofness. They take a loving interest in one another.
The entire point here, as General Loewenhielm expresses eloquently in his speech, is the true nature of grace, the grace which God distributes: “Grace, my friends, demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude.” And added to it this truth by the old pastor of these parish folk who were the ones being blessed by Babette’s feast: “The only things which we may take with us from our life on earth are those which we have given away.” Even your gratefulness.
It is gratitude itself, then, which you give away, and gratitude accompanies your soul as you depart. Thanksgiving is a feast you enjoy with others in the act of worship with an appreciation for the grace lavished upon you, “received with confidence and acknowledged with gratitude.”
So, may you experience the grace of God with confidence and be grateful. This is the treasure that indeed accompanies you into eternity.
“My song is love unknown, My Savior’s love to me; love to the loveless shown, that they might lovely be. O who am I, that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh, and die?”
(First verse of Samuel Crossman’s hymn, “My Song is Love Unknown,” 1664)