And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. – Psalm 107
Not long ago I had the opportunity of being the intermediary of an anonymous gift from one member of our congregation to another. A young couple was expecting a baby and someone else wanted to help them prepare for the new addition to their family. It’s a pleasure to be a part of this sort of thing—to see the face of a recipient light up, to know that they have received not only some small practical assistance but also the knowledge that someone else is thinking of them.
Giving is another of the central practices of Lent. Christians have historically used the term “almsgiving.” In a world where so much of our material success is a result of luck (a result of the country in which were born etc.), giving to those with material needs is a way of pursuing justice. It can be something else too. Many people I talk to also say that for them giving is a expression of their thankfulness.
There is an interesting connection here to the psalm assigned for the fourth Sunday in Lent, Psalm 107. Commentators tell us that this Psalm is one of the clearest examples of a psalm of thanksgiving. Psalms of thanksgiving name specific things for which the poet is thankful. This is in contrast to psalms of praise, which are more generalized. What I find interesting about this psalm of thanksgiving is that in verse 22 the poet suggests offering “thanksgiving sacrifices” and telling others of what God has done. The poet probably didn’t have almsgiving in mind exactly, but the two-sided expression of thanksgiving is still important. To express thanks to God we can both tell our story and give concretely to others. As St. Ignatius suggests in his Rules for the Distribution of Alms, the love that moves us to give is ultimately the love of God.