If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is thank you, it will be enough.
— Meister Eckhart.
Gratitude, the condition of being thankful or the readiness to show appreciation, is both a feeling and a disposition. In the last few decades, science and popular culture have rediscovered what our hymns have long taught us: science has ascertained its health benefits, and self-help books remind us that it is one of the habits we need to develop to achieve peace of mind.
We Christians may sometimes forget it, but it turns out that gratitude is the tacit emotional kernel that energizes our worship: praise begins and ends with a grateful heart. Fred Pratt Green’s hymn “For the Fruit of All Creation” (ELW 679), names the blessings big and small, the “countless gifts of love” we have. The third stanza seems to be a comprehensive summation, “for the harvests of the Spirit, for the good we all inherit, for the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us, thanks be to God.”
This is one hymn, but as it turns out, our hymnals are overflowing with gratitude. When I read the line “my utmost powers can never quite declare the wonders of God’s might” (“Oh, That I Had a Thousand Voices,” ELW 833), I cannot imagine a context where these words could be spoken or sung not brimming with enthusiasm, passion, and joy. The wonders of God’s might are reasons to marvel and rejoice.
There is a little wooden plaque I have been lugging around for more than 25 years. Its inscription has become a personal motto. All my choirs since have seen it, for it has always been prominently displayed near my desk. It reads, “Joy is the unmistakable sign of the presence of God.” When we can frame our experiences in gratitude, the good, the challenging, and the unexpected, we become freer and happier. Joy is the wake of the grateful heart in the open sea of life.
As I get ready to say goodbye to the Ohio church family that has sustained me and encouraged me for almost eight years, I have been thinking lately that next to joy and gratitude, I must not forget the role of hope. Hope for the future that awaits them, that awaits me, and awaits us all. We read in 1 Peter 1:3 that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Our living hope is based on the empty tomb. Because of it, ours is the certainty that the reign of God is already here, sometimes gingerly peeking through, and at others (like alien armies from sci-fi films) ominously threatening a hostile takeover. This hope is no ordinary hope: like gratitude, it is part of our survival toolkit.
Finding myself unbelievably favored, and in a joyful and hopeful frame of mind, I offer you the blessing the apostle Paul gave us in Romans 15:13: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”