Sunday, November 18, 2012

Give Thanks

(A Communion Meditation based on Luke 22:14-20 for the Sunday before Thanksgiving Day)

The American Thanksgiving holiday has a long and rich history. Its roots can be traced to November 1621 when those English Separatists, known to us as the Pilgrims, celebrated their first corn harvest in the New World with a three-day feast that was shared with their Native American allies. The feast of thanksgiving, declared by Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, followed the harvest that followed the summer and spring that followed their first winter in the New World, a winter during which around half of the settlers had died. The Pilgrims celebrated their blessings, then, but they did so in the shadow of great suffering and of great trials as well as in the face of the great unknown that stretched out before them.

The first national Thanksgiving Day proclamation issued by the new United States government was that of President George Washington in 1789; he called for it as a day to give thanks for the successful war for independence and for the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday to be held annually on the last Thursday in November. Since 1941 Thanksgiving Day has been observed on the fourth Thursday in November. [All information about Thanksgiving from]

Our consumption-driven culture has done its best to reduce Thanksgiving Day to “Black Friday Eve”; I hope that we will make every effort to foster and to observe a true spirit of Thanksgiving on this Thanksgiving Day. Let’s spend some time reflecting on our blessings, thanking God for them, and asking for guidance on how we can help those who are not similarly blessed. I would suggest reading a Thanksgiving Psalm at your Thanksgiving dinner table, such as this one:

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
(Psalm 30)

Our Scripture reading is not about a Thanksgiving meal but it is about a meal; it is about a Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples—in fact, it was the last meal that he shared with them and so it was a very meaningful time. The Passover meal did and does include prayers of thanks, though, so it did and does have a thanksgiving element to it.

We are told that Jesus gave thanks both for the cup and for the bread before he passed them among his disciples. Those prayers were likely the prayers that all Jews prayed at their Passover meal; with those prayers they blessed God for the fruit of the vine and for the bread from the earth. It is a good thing to give thanks for life, whether you, like our own Esylena Dougla, have celebrated your 94th birthday or like my Aunt Mary who will turn 100 next Sunday, or have lived a much shorter time. It is a good thing to thank God for our most basic and thus most necessary blessings, namely, our food and drink.

Let us thank God that we have enough!

There is a greater thanksgiving involved in the Passover meal, though. The Passover commemorates the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt through the exodus. It was a thanksgiving, then, for God’s deliverance of God’s people from captivity and oppression. Jesus shared the meal with his disciples as he was about to lead another even greater exodus; he was about to win the victory that would liberate us from sin, death, and meaninglessness. He would do that through his crucifixion and resurrection. How has God in Christ set you free?

Let us thank God that we are free!

The Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples was his last meal with them; on the next day he would give his body and shed his blood for his disciples and for us. In sharing in the bread and the cup, the disciples were, even though they did not know it yet, joining themselves to the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus. They would have the privilege of loving, giving, serving, and sacrificing like Jesus did; they would have the opportunity to give their lives up for God and for others like he did. We have the privilege of loving God and loving others by giving ourselves up.

Let us thank God that we can love, serve, and give!

When Luke says that Jesus “gave thanks” for the bread and the cup, he uses the Greek word eucharisto; that is a word that some Christian traditions use to name the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is in some ways, then, a Great Thanksgiving. As we come to the Table of the Lord today, let us give thanks that we have enough, that we are free, and that we can love…

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