Thursday, October 24, 2019

On Thanksgiving and suffering

I was on my way to reading something else in 2 Corinthians, but stopped at Paul's "thanksgiving" which follows his greeting, "grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." We hear that greeting so often, we sometimes don't even notice it. Christian pastors often begin their sermons with that.

I was writing in my gratitude journal; the words grace and gratitude are derived from the Latin gratis/gratus/gratia which means thankful. Eucharist derives from the Greek εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning "thanksgiving," and root for "charity" is right in the middle.

Interestingly, in Paul's "thanksgiving" which I often skip to get on to the juicy stuff of resolving conflicts, and raising money, he uses the Jewish blessing "God of all encouragement" (consolation, paraklesis) ten times! And when does he encourage us? In every affliction. He mentions suffering or affliction seven times in this word of thanksgiving.

"Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement."

Although I never got to the verses I had planned to read, today I'm thankful for God's encouragement in a time of suffering.

I shared the above thought about thanksgiving and gratitude on my Facebook page, which allows others to respond immediately, not like a blog which has to be approved first.  A young Lutheran pastor from Texas, Phil Daniels, who a few years ago was a seminary student serving at our church, responded.  I don’t know when I friended him on FB, or how he happened to notice my little essay.

Philip Daniels: That is very insightful. I have noticed, as I have been working on sermons, how often I overlook those introductions in order to go onto the more meaty stuff ... and I'm a pastor! That has been something God has been teaching me both in my personal study and public proclamation: don't overlook those introductions. And I do love the word "Paraklesis" which has overtones of the word often used to describe the Holy Spirit. In the Septuagint we see Isaiah most famously use it in Isaiah 40:1: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. The Hebrew in that sense is "Nacham." As far as I can understand, the word is tied to both breath and resuscitation. In Arabic, the word means "to breath pantingly." While, this misses the mark, it does give us a little insight as words of comfort are often felt like gasps of living breath to those worn out by fatigue in the world. Yet the earliest parts of the Bible seem to use it in the comforting after a death (i.e. Genesis 24:67b, "So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.")

Nacham therefore is best understood as a revivification after the loss of someone or some ideal dear. And, oddly, one wonders if one has to experience this death in order to have this new breath breathed into one.

This is probably overanalyzing Paul in this context. On the other hand, I am also sure Paul would not be averse to such thinking. These are people who can offer comfort because a new breath has been put inside them. A Comforter has been called beside them. They can now breathe new life into the lives of those around them since they have been "comforted" indeed we could say they have experienced "nacham." If we forget that we have been revived, that we too have looked upon the cross and the body placed in the tomb; we can also declare that Someone has revived us and bids us to GO! and share the good news that we have.

In any case, keep reading and don't be afraid of the New Life found each New Day in the easy glanced-over parts of this Book of Life.

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