Thanksgiving in the United States of America: There may be a chill in the air, and even in some areas there are snowflakes falling. The days are getting shorter. Trees are bare or becoming bare. Winter is coming around the corner. And Christmas is coming with great expectations.
Usually for some, the Family arrives at your house that day, or perhaps the night before. A few of you have already plotted who will go where today or early tomorrow for Black Friday sales. Others have staked out your place on the sofa or claimed your recliner to watch the parades and the big college football games. Others are huddled in the kitchen, preparing the turkey and all the fixings.
Mealtime comes, and the ritual of giving thanks begins. Maybe everyone says one thing he or she is grateful for. Maybe one person offers a prayer or a speech expressing gratitude for the whole gathering. Or maybe you just stand around the table for a moment of silence before sitting down to the feast.
Where will we find ourselves this Thanksgiving? What will it be like for you? What will it be like for the people you see in worship, or the grocery store, or the emergency room, or the police or fire department, or the hospital, or on the streets? What will it be like for those you don’t usually see, or those you see but rarely think about?
So, Thanksgiving as those of us here in the United States have come to know it is a time of feasting and fellowship and maybe making someone else’s day a little brighter. But you know there’s a deeper spiritual level of Thanksgiving that all of us are called to as the people of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of a God who gathers people from everywhere and seeks to save us all, and save us to the uttermost, a God known to Christians as Holy Trinity– or as we have most commonly put it, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One God now and forever. I’m talking about the Thanksgiving of the saints.
The pattern for that deeper level of Thanksgiving is found in the annual harvest ritual God called the people God brought into promised land to observe long ago. It’s found in Deuteronomy 26. It’s the same fourfold pattern that underlies the Great Thanksgiving we pray every time we gather at the Lord’s Table (part of the United Methodist practice before receiving communion). The gifts, in this case the first fruits of the harvest, are presented to the presider before God, and the priest takes them. The people are led in a prayer of thanksgiving that blesses God and confesses our identity as being among those whom God has been saving since the time of Abraham (or before). The priest offers it on the altar before God. The priest breaks or divides it, so all present can share in it in a meal of thanksgiving that creates a larger collection of food that continues to support others who are needy beyond just that meal.
Take. Bless. Break. Share.
Isn’t this the reason why we give thanks, every day, not only with our lips and in our lives, for God’s goodness and loving kindness toward us and all whom God has made. We give thanks for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. The greatest reason we give thanks is for our redemption in our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, including the Great Thanksgiving, and for the hope of glory.
So, wherever you are this Thanksgiving, however this day may be for you in other ways, take time yourself, or with those with whom you may gather, and offer this prayer that you may not forget, but remember, that day, and every day, the thanksgiving of the saints:
Almighty and most merciful God, give us such an awareness of all your mercies that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (United Methodist Book of Worship, #550)
Rev. George E. Odell is Lead Pastor, Clinton-First United Methodist Church