Monday, December 2, 2013

giving thanks

St. George’s Chapel
Thanksgiving, Year C
Nov. 28, 2013

May the words I speak and the words you hear be God’s alone. Amen.

The past week and a half, my Facebook feed has been littered with thanksgiving-related posts. The range from blogs of the latest trendy recipes, to articles on the real story behind the holiday, to debates over the ethics of shopping on Thanksgiving Day. The ones that really took me surprise, however, were articles telling conservatives how to deal with their liberal in-laws and liberals how to deal with their conservative in-laws during the Thanksgiving meal. Wait a minute! This isn’t a game of survivor! Isn’t this supposed to be a time of joy and peace, when we reflect on the good in our lives and thank God for it?

The first national celebration of Thanksgiving was established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Right in the heart of the Civil War, the atmosphere was anything but conducive to giving thanks. Yet this is precisely why he felt it was so important to have this celebration. That first last Thursday in November, only the northern states participated. In his Thanksgiving address, President Lincoln acknowledged the sin and brokenness that had divided the nation. He bid prayers for the widows and orphans, the wounded, and all those who had suffered in any way because of the war. Finally, he bid prayers for unity and peace, so that the nation would one day be restored. 

In the midst of the Civil War, I imagine Christians took comfort in the words of Paul, who encouraged the Philippians, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7). If we think that Paul’s call to rejoice was too far removed from the hardships that the North and the South were facing, remember that Paul was writing to Christians in the first century, who were being persecuted and even killed for their faith. And yet, rather than lament the situations he and his fellow Christians were in, he urged them to “keep on doing the things that [they] have learned and received and heard and seen in [him]” (v. 9). Paul preached perseverance in the face of persecution. He was no stranger to persecution himself; he wrote these words from a prison cell while awaiting his execution. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice...the Lord is near” (vv. 4,5). 

Jesus promised that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt 18:20, KJV). This is why we gather together every week and on special occasions like today. We come together to pray, rejoice, ask forgiveness, and to celebrate the Eucharist. The word Eucharist means to show gratitude, to give thanks ( Every time we break bread together we are showing gratitude for God’s Son, whose body was broken for us: “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven” (BCP 365). Every time we break bread together we are getting a sampling of the heavenly meal: “the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven” (ibid.). Every time we break bread together we are thanking God for our abundant blessings: “The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving” (BCP 364-365). 

God is with us, my friends. In response to the unconditional love and peace of God which passes all understanding, we give thanks to God every day for “the bounty that the Lord [our] God has given to [us] and to [our] house” (Deut 26:11). Not just when everything is going well. Not just when we are in church. And not just one day a year. 

Nourish yourselves for the journey with the bread of heaven broken for us. In good times and hard times, give thanks for the gift of this wild, beautiful, and unpredictable life this day and all the days to come.

(image found here)

Information about President Lincoln and the first national Thanksgiving found here.

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