What will you do this Thanksgiving Day? I hope that, whatever you do for meals or other activities, you will truly pause throughout the day to give God thanks. Of course a spirit of thanksgiving should be something we have each and every day, even as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NRSV)
Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday that may bring back memories of feasting and family, but the real inspiration behind this day, from its seeds in scripture to its first practice by the pilgrims, is a recognition that God is worthy of our thanks - for our blessings and for life itself.
At a very early age I learned to love Thanksgiving. What’s not to like: a special meal, the occasional visit from extended family, a four day holiday from school, special table decorations (pilgrim & turkey candles and a cornucopia filled with fruit and vegetables), and a spirit of good cheer and love. I was brought up understanding that Thanksgiving was about thanking God for our many blessings and that was easy to understand because we really were blessed.
Over the course of the years I have experienced many other observances of Thanksgiving. Away at college they tried to make the dinner meal special... but it wasn’t the same. The gathering of family has become a gathering of church family
as we open our table to the Community Kitchen and welcome both friends and strangers. The truth is that this Thanksgiving observance is probably much closer to that of the first Thanksgiving observed by the pilgrims than any of my early remembrances.
Something else learned through the years is that the real spirit of Thanksgiving doesn’t depend on abundance, the presence of family, or even a celebration of good health. Many of us may not be able to gather with our family this Thanksgiving. Many we serve at the Community Kitchen meal have not experienced much abundance in their lives of late. As we reflect on the length of our “Prayer Ministry” list, we recognize that good health is not something we can all be thankful for either.
I want to give you an encouraging word, perhaps one that I need myself as well. Paul exhorts us, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Paul does not say that we must give thanks for all circumstances, but that even when our lives are not filled with family, abundance or good health that we may give thanks, not only because that is the will of God for us, but even more importantly because God’s greatest gifts to us are those that endure whatever our current circumstance.
As we count our blessings let us not think immediately of food, shelter, material possessions, or even good health. We may enjoy those things, and we should definitely be thankful for those things... but perhaps we should be thankful even more for those gifts that do not depend on such prosperity and that may never be taken from us:
For the love of God known in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
For the guarantee of salvation that is ours when we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. For the gift of the Spirit and the experience of new life that is ours when we are saved. For the promise of eternal life with our loving God.
In my favorite passage of scripture (Romans 8:28-39) Paul declares that there is no circumstance in life or death that can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Having trouble at work? God loves you. Can’t pay all the bills? God loves you. Feeling lonely this holiday? God loves you. Worried about your health? God loves you. God’s love doesn’t change, and God promises us so much more than the blessings we often think of first on our Thanksgiving lists.
Perhaps it is especially appropriate that All Saints’ Day and Thanksgiving fall in the same month. The death of loved ones represents one of the most difficult obstacles to a spirit of thanksgiving, and yet once again the power of God’s love comes through as we recall the glorious hope that is promised to us. Paul closes his wonderful treatise on the certainty of the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15 with these words, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58 NRSV)
Whatever your circumstances this Thanksgiving, may you feel blessed, for so you are. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NRSV)