It was about a week before graduation, and I was just coming from a final exam. I needed lunch, and I was in no mood for the bustling cafeteria. Instead, I set my sights on the cafe. I was looking forward to some comfort food and a few moments of quiet. The woman at the counter accessed my account, and subtracted the price of my lunch from my meal plan balance. Then she printed the receipt and handed it to me. Thinking nothing of it, I stuffed the paper in the pocket of my jeans and moved to the side to wait for my order.
It wasn’t until that night when I realized something wasn’t right. I was getting ready for bed, and I remembered the receipt in my pocket. I knew I was close to nearing the end of my meal plan, and I was curious to see my remaining balance. I accessed my account online and got quite the shock. The total for my lunch had been deducted as expected, but it also said that my account was overdrawn. I wondered how that could be. I usually kept my totals pretty well in check. There had to be a mistake. Further investigation proved this to be true, for under my lunch charge of $7.00 there was an extra charge with three more zeros! Yes, the cafe had billed my account for $70,000. Yikes! That was one bill I was not prepared to pay during my college career!
Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t pay someone back… like the debt was far too great for you to even make a dent in the total sum? I certainly felt that way that night. I was pretty sure I could get the issue straightened out at the business office the next morning, but for the night, I was in well over my head. If asked to pay up in that moment, I would have to plead that the debt be removed because I just didn’t have the money.
But the truth is, this wasn’t the only debt that existed in my life. This story came to mind recently as we contemplated ideas for our Thanksgiving Eve service at the church. The pastor and I took several moments to reflect on whether we were truly thankful for our salvation. For someone like me who has grown up in the church, the startling reality of Christ’s sacrifice is often lost in the everyday-ness of life. I know deep down in my heart that He came as a baby, walked this earth, and then submitted Himself to the cross to atone for my sins, but its incredible life-saving message is not one that readily comes to mind.
But it is incredible! It’s amazing grace! It’s divine love! It’s unlike any gift that’s ever been given before. Yes, He gave His life for my sins, but the story doesn’t end there! He rose from the grave, forever conquering death and hell for each one of us! Now, if that isn’t a reason for thanksgiving, I can’t think of anything that would remotely match up to this wonder!
I think of the simple beauty of the hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded:”
“O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns Thy only crown;
How art Thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor; vouch-safe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee!
The lyrics here do not yet reflect the wonder of Easter morning, but they portray a certain gratitude that I could not even begin to attempt with words from my own pen. In times of Thanksgiving, we so often turn to songs like “Now Thank we all our God” or “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart.” But a hymn like this takes the worshipper to a different time and place, asking us to consider the debt of our sin and grace of our Savior who wiped the slate clean.
It’s like making that final credit card payment or paying off that school loan. For months, maybe even years, the strain of your financial debt has affected your everyday life. It has affected your decisions, the activities you engaged in, changed the dynamics of your family. But oh, the celebration that takes place when that debt is cleared! Shouldn’t we exhibit the same celebratory attitude when we are reminded of the greatest act of love to ever be lavished on humans so broken by sin and grief?
It’s easy to say we are grateful for His sacrifice, but our gratitude needs to go deeper… to identify with His suffering and then rejoice with Mary in His resurrection. “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
This Thanksgiving, I want to bask in the glow of Easter morning! It is finished! My debt is paid in full! And if you’re wondering about my astronomical lunch bill… that’s all resolved too. I was right; one trip to the business office and I was no longer in the red. In fact, the cafe staff and the business office personnel had a good laugh over it all. I was able to graduate without excess debt, and this Thanksgiving, my heart is even more joyful than it was on that day.