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In thanksgiving… for God the Son (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

4th November 2020

Andrei Rublov's Icon of the Trinity (explanation here).

In thanksgiving… for God the Son (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

The Rev. Steven McCarthy

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Th. 5:16-18, ESV)

These three commands of the Bible are not only punchy, they hit us hard. And they provoke questions. Does “always” really mean always? What about when I am in pain? What about when someone has slighted me, or I feel betrayed? How can I pray without ceasing? Surely there are other responsibilities I must manage in life such as caring for children, laboring at my job or studies, paying attention to my spouse, or socializing with my friends. And how can I give thanks in all circumstances, such as when my hopes have been dashed? As if anticipating our objections, St. Paul reiterates, “always”, “without ceasing,” “in all circumstance,” weaving a three-fold chord of inflexible constraints.

And yet St. Paul was no stranger to the awful experiences that make it hard to rejoice and give thanks. Shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, mocked, and slandered, he knew suffering better than most. And the Apostle was far from inactive, evangelizing most of the civilized world in his day, organizing churches and training ministers in town after town.

St. Paul’s threefold cord is tied together by what he adds next: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The phrase “the will of God” reminds us that these are non-negotiable. But the little phrase “in Christ Jesus” does even more work. It untangles the meaning of these directives for us as Christians, and it binds them together in a lovely unity that turns them from burden upon burden upon burden, to layer upon layer upon layer of joy. 

Jesus, God the Son made man of his mother Mary, is our reason for feeling and expressing joy. He is the one who teaches us by his word and example to rejoice, and who grants us the joy of God the Holy Spirit in our hearts. He is the reason that we give thanks. He told us to rejoice, and he gave us ample reason to do so.

To rejoice means to feel and express joy, happiness, or a sense of wellbeing. A command to feel something may strike us as odd at first. But picture a train with an engine at the front and a caboose at the rear. Our emotions should not be the engine driving our lives. They are the caboose coming behind. They can tell us about ourselves, but they must be interpreted by God’s Word. The engine that should drive our lives forward is faith in Jesus Christ, fueled by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. And at the center of the Bible’s message is Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, cruel suffering, and death, which lead to his resurrection and the announcement of his victory over death. Jesus is the ground for us to rejoice always, even in suffering. 

How about praying without ceasing? In my observation, we do not have a widespread problem  spending too much time in our prayer closets. But the reality is that we cannot stay locked away there even if we more greatly desired to do so. And yet the Word of God reveals and revels in a profound truth. The will of God for my life is “in Christ Jesus.” And as I go about my day trusting in him, life flows from the crucified and risen Lord Jesus to me. My heart should remain lifted to him so that everything I do becomes a prayer, and when it doesn’t, a confession, but because of forgiveness, finally thanksgiving and rejoicing in him.

The Rev. Steven McCarthy
The Rev. Steven McCarthy is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, a diocese in the Anglican Church in North America.


FOR DAILY GROWTH                        
Richard of Chichester
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me, and all the benefits thou hast given me. O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother: Grant that I may see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.

BCP 2019 p. 672

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