April 4, 2021 - Easter
Are you living with an attitude of gratitude?
We all know what gratitude feels like in response to a gift we’ve been given, but we may not realize that an “attitude of gratitude” is something we can cultivate in our lives. Practicing gratitude has become increasingly popular in secular culture. You can find gratitude lists, journals and meditations pretty much anywhere. Research even shows that gratitude makes people happier. If we delve more deeply into the meaning of the word “gratitude,” we will learn that it comes from gratus, the Latin word for pleasing or thankful. Gratitude comes out of the recognition that what we receive is not something we’ve earned or deserve – it is purely a gift – grace (think about the difference in feeling when you receive your paycheck compared with receiving a gift).
Easter is the primary event of God’s grace to humanity. As we celebrate Easter, we can learn to live in response to grace through the practice of gratitude. The other spiritual disciplines we have looked at during Lent prepare us to be attentive to and aware of the moments and gifts of grace that God gives us every day.
To put Easter in the context of our Lenten series on spiritual disciplines, we might ask why were the women at Jesus’ tomb there in the first place? To anoint Jesus’ body with the spices they had prepared. Why on this day and not sooner? Because they rested on the Sabbath? What would have happened if they had gone with the spices sooner, or not at all? We don’t know for sure. But the point here is that the women lived life in a spiritual rhythm, their days and weeks and habits formed by the practices of their faith. It is not that they made resurrection happen through these things, but their spiritual disciplines put them in the right place at the right time to discover and recognize that the miracle of resurrection had taken place. Their spiritual disciplines, rather than fear or sadness, shaped their responses to the event of Jesus’ death. Regardless of how they felt, the women were disciplined enough to do what needed to be done. That led them to the right place, at the right time.
Resurrection takes the women, and later Peter and others, by surprise. While the women go to the tomb to attend to the dead body of Jesus, God surprises them with the exact opposite – resurrection! Life! The only way they can respond is in surprise, wonder and awe. In Jesus, God has taken on the weight of sin and death on the cross and defeated it so that we, like Jesus, might live. This is a tremendous and surprising gift!
In the Lucan version of this narrative, the women run to tell the apostles, and they did not believe the women at first. Peter immediately runs to the tomb, eager to see what the women are talking about. When he does, he too becomes amazed. Then, in a story that those of you who have listened to Bishop Sean know very well, Luke tells us about the two disciples who meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus. It takes some time for them to recognize the risen Jesus for who he is. Even though they, too, tell the rest of the apostles about Jesus’ resurrection, the latter are still “startled and terrified” when Jesus shows up in person. Of course, anyone would be terrified if a dead person appeared to them alive! Jesus appears at different times and in different ways to different people. Jesus and the grace offered through him are always unexpected – grace breaks into our lives as a gratuitous gift. Once the disciples get over the initial shock of Jesus’ resurrection, and come to understand it as the gift of repentance (metanoia – change of mind/heart) and forgiveness of sins that it is, they respond in gratitude, not just for a moment but as a new way of life. Gratitude becomes not just something we express, but part of who we are. Our disciplines bring us to a place where we trust that God will do something, and we are grateful to be a part of it.
Gratitude is a natural response to receiving a gift. In our busy lives, however, we do not always recognize God’s gifts to us. As we live lives shaped by spiritual disciplines, we can become more attentive and aware of God’s movement in our lives. Jesus’ resurrection is the greatest gift of all time – through it, God conquers sin and death and opens us up to new life in both big and small ways. This gift is offered to everyone, but it is also especially meant for each one of us in particular.
Intentionally practicing gratitude is not only the appropriate response to this gift, but it also helps us to become increasingly more attuned to the grace we live in each and every day. It helps us to see the moments of life in the midst of sorrow, grief, and death.
Some ways to practice gratitude include keeping a gratitude journal, listing a few things each day that you are thankful for, sending someone a thank you note or calling them to say thank you, and praying prayers of thanksgiving.
As a people who are forgiven and reconciled to God through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are called to live in a posture of gratitude. Gratitude is not guilt or indebtedness or feeling like we owe God. It is the joyful response to the gift of Jesus, given for us. As a community, how do we express gratitude? (Some ideas, as you’re thinking: celebrating the Lord’s supper, generous giving back to God through offering, volunteering in mission and ministry, prayers of thanksgiving). But how can each of us, individually, and as a community, be more intentional about gratitude? And how will we, in doing so, participate more fully in heralding the Kingdom of God?
Alleluia! Christ is risen!