In 1961, Swedish diplomat and second Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld died at the age of 56 in an airplane crash as he travelled to a warring region of Africa. A lifelong student of languages, Christian mysticism, history and literature, Hammarskjöld had brought his deep faith to the work which he called ‘preventive diplomacy’, the negotiation of agreements and understandings in the spirit of the UN’s mandated mission of peace-making.

After his death, Hammarskjöld’s daily journal was published under the English title Markings. Hammarskjöld saw these jottings as his own ‘negotiations’ with himself and with God. His first entry when elected to his post in 1953 expresses the faith and conviction which were to uphold him in the years ahead. He wrote, ‘For all that has been, THANKS, for all that is to be, YES!’

In this prayer of affirmation and hope, Hammarskjöld points to the essence of our common life in Christ: the offering of gratitude and thanks. As we read in the Letter to the Colossians, ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ Apostle Paul writes in the First Letter to the Thessalonians, ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’

Even though tried by the world’s misunderstanding, by hardship, persecution, and martyrdom, our ancestors in faith sought to live in continual thanksgiving to God—in everything. This firm conviction did not seek to deny the troubles and sorrows of the present. Yet, by the continual offering of thanks, trials were undergone and passed through  as they blessed the ‘goodness and loving-kindness’ of God who created and preserves us with the gift of life and being. In the words of the Prayer Book’s ‘General Thanksgiving’, they humbly affirmed their gratitude for God’s ‘immeasurable love in the redemption of the world’, and ‘for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory’ which were theirs in Christ. Their lives of prayer and action were to be thoroughly ‘eucharistic’ (to use the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’), characterized by mutual support and encouragement in their offering of gratitude to God. Thus they were made a eucharistic people ready to say ‘Thanks’ for all that had been, and empowered to say, ‘Yes’ for all that was to be in God’s providence.

As did those before us, God’s children now live in a world of individual and corporate pain and loss—ours in the midst of pandemic and death, economic uncertainty and inequality, social and racial injustice, and destructive climate change. In these trying times, physically separated from one another, unable to participate in common worship, the temptation to lose heart and hope is great; yet for the sake of our unity in Christ, we must resist it.

For in our intense longing to be together, we remain and are becoming more fully ‘eucharistic’ people. Joined in one Body by baptism into Christ’s salvific dying and rising, we are living the witness, the martyrdom of his sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Our prayer and actions of gratitude, even offered in isolation, bring us together as a living sacrament of Christ for the sake of one another and of the world. Through the giving of thanks in all things, we together partake of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Heaven, at his table set in our hearts.

‘For all that has been, THANKS, for all that is to be, YES!’

Let us pray.

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the
Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Eve of the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

(Collect for the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany, The Book of Common Prayer 1979)

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