Today in America is that quintessential holiday- Thanksgiving. Where families gather from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters. Sitting around a huge mahogany table, they partake of a feast as ancient as 1783 (or 1863- we're really not sure). Gathering together foods from a bountiful harvest, the tradition of the Puritan Fathers is to eat turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing (the exact ingredients of which are never questioned), yams, and rolls. Oh, and cranberry relish. Who could forget cranberry relish.
Technically a "harvest festival", its cousins include Chuseok, Sukkot, and 中秋節. Thanksgiving Day's ancestors were feasts held around the autumnal equinox, and were times of merriment, eating, drinking, contests, and all sorts of debauchery. Also, there was thanks for a good harvest implied, probably in sacrifices which were consumed by those offering.
In any case, back to the subject.
Now, most people are familiar with the Thanksgiving proclamation that was given by President Lincoln. A great one, if I do say so myself. However, I like the one given by President Washington better:
"Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789."
Well said, Mr. President. Such moving words. Such profound eloquence.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful day. Thanksgiving is a wonderful day full of absolutely nothing.
We gather together once a year to gorge ourselves on food, say "Thanks [insert higher power here]. But, the pie could have been better." And then we go back home, returning to our lives that we never really left. Hooray for being shallow.
In his first letter the church at Thessalonica (why is it that Bible names all sound really cool?), the holy Apostle St. Paul says:
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
How often do we follow this command? And, make no mistake- it is a command. How often do we give thanks during times of bounty, much less during times of drought? We may be polite and say, "Thank you" to others, like to the cashier at the grocery store. But, that is just social convention to maintain order. Following on that example, how many of us actually mean what we say to that cashier? Sure, they are just doing their job. Nonetheless, they are serving us.
Many will exclaim "Thank God!" when they receive a promotion at work. But, how many will say "Glory to God!" when they find out that they have been laid off?
Now, don't act as though I am just beating on you. For as much as this is aimed outward, it is just as much for myself. We all need reminding.
For all that we have, we must give thanks unto God. And as surely as the Lord lives, the words of His mouth are true and wise. As Our Lord Jesus says:
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Our Lord Jesus promises us that we shall be provided for; not as sparrows or lilies, but as children of Our Heavenly Father. But, that is not all there is on this matter. Again, as it is written:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth."
In Christ, we have all the blessings we shall need! In Him is forgiveness, life, and salvation!
The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Lord's Table, Breaking of the Bread- all these are names of that Holy Gift which Jesus gives us, and which He commanded to be offered in His Name. In this Mystical Supper, we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Why? So that we might be united to Him; to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. To be sanctified, and made more Christ like.
There is another name for this Mystery. It is perhaps one of (if not the most) ancient of names, drawn from the very text of the Last Supper.
This one little Greek word means something that at first seems so simple; yet in reality it is deeply profound:
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are "proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes". We are taken outside our little world bound by space and time, and into eternity. Heaven and earth are crashed together. And all of Christ's saving work- His Incarnation, Perfect Life, His Ministry; His Holy Passion, His Victorious Resurrection, His Glorious Ascension; even His Second Coming- all are made present. Him Whom saves is made present. Jesus offers Himself to us.
And we give thanks. We offer ourselves up in thanksgiving. Our lives become living sacrifices; our prayers, a sweet and fragrant incense.
Lately, I have been reading quotes from Fr. Alexander Schmemann. He truly possessed great insight, and his work is magnificent. I highly recommend reading him. He, too, had something to say about giving thanks. Listen to these wise words, taken from Fr. Schmemann's book "For the Life of the World":
"When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks. Eucharist (thanksgiving) is the state of perfect man. Eucharist is the life of paradise. Eucharist is the only full and real response of man to God’s creation, redemption and gift of heaven. But this perfect man who stands before God is Christ. In Him alone all that God has given man was fulfilled and brought back to heaven. He alone is the perfect Eucharistic Being, He is the Eucharist of the world. In and through this Eucharist the whole creation becomes what it always was to be and yet failed to be."What we cannot do, Jesus does. What we did not do, Jesus does. We were created in the image of God. Christ is the image of the Father. We are made in the image of Christ. That which we scorned, He exalted. That which we neglected, He fulfilled.
And so too He calls us to Him so that in His fulfillment, we might become fulfilled.
In, with, and through Jesus, we are called to Eucharistic living. And, how is this done? By following in the Master's footsteps- serving all for God, and offering all to God.
The Holy Spirit enlivens and empowers us to such a destiny.
Thanksgiving Day. A time of family and food; of bounty and celebration. But for what? But for Whom? Certainly not us.
Thanksgiving- now, and forever more.
Glory be to God for all things!