Friday, April 11, 2014

Gratitude, Praise, Transformation

Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful, these You deserve.

My Church uses a couple of different rites for communion. One of them is the Great Thanksgiving in the United Methodist Hymnal. The other is from A Wee Worship Book. It begins as does the Great Thanksgiving: The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

But then, it goes on to the line I quoted at the top. Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful. This is how we should come to the table: praising God. It is right to give our thanks and praise; we've already said that. The shift is in address, from addressing each other to addressing God. These You deserve. God deserves all our thanks and all our praise, and as we come to the table of communion, these are essential. (However, it's worth noting that what comes first is not thanksgiving and praise but rather the notion of God's presence. The Lord be with you.)

The service goes on like this (below the fold!):

For when we were nothing, You made us something.
When we had no name and no faith and no future,
You called us Your people.
When we lost our way or turned away, You did not abandon us.
When we come back to You, Your arms opened wide in welcome.

This is why we praise and give thanks to God. This is how we know God is great; this is how we know God deserves our worship. God makes us. God names us, and more than that, God claims us, calling us God's people. And from there? God plans a future for us and will never abandon us, no matter how much we wander away. When we come back, God is waiting and welcoming.

But God gives more than that. Here's the next part:
And look, You prepare a table for us offering not just bread, not just wine,
but Your very self so that we may be filled, forgiven,
healed, blessed and made new again.
You are worth all our pain and all our praise.

God came to earth as Christ, who died for us, giving of his body and blood. That's the very core of communion: Christ fills us so that we need never hunger or thirst again. Christ died for this: that we may be filled, forgiven, healed, blessed, and made new again. That's a pretty fantastic list. God pours such immense grace out on us. In return, what do we have to give? Gratitude, praise, hearts lifted high, voices full and joyful. And yes, pain. Being a follower is not easy. But God is worth it. God deserves all that we give and all that we are.

Over the past year, I've found myself regularly praying the hymn "Take My Life, and Let it Be" (UMH 399, by Frances R. Harvergal). Here are the lines I use most often:

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. (verse 1)
Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. (verse 1)
Take my intellect, and use every power as thou shalt choose. (verse 2)
Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine. (verse 3)
Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne. (verse 3)
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee. (verse 3)

This whole hymn is fantastic; these are just the lines with which I connect the most. The LORD has given so much to us. This is what we have to give back. We give of our lives, our moments, our days, the work of our hands and feet, voice and lips. We give our silver and gold, our intellect. We hand over our wills, our hearts, our love, and our very selves to God.

God has always claimed us, but when we grow in our faith, we give to God, and God consecrates those gifts. Consecrate means "dedicated to a sacred purpose" (Merriam Webster). When we ask God to take our lives and let them be consecrated to God, our lives are dedicated to a sacred purpose -- God's purpose.

That's pretty amazing. Our gifts are meant as praise and thanks to God for God's wondrous love, grace, and transformation of bread and cup into body and blood and new covenant. But the story doesn't end with what we give back to God, for God transforms our gifts and our lives. Through our gifts, God continues to work in our lives. It is indeed right to give our thanks and praise.

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