A Thanksgiving Rectory Ramblings
Friday 27 November 2020
I hope this Rectory Rambling finds you well.
Let me start off by wish ya’ll a happy thanksgiving!
As you may have gathered, today is a big day for me and my fellow Americans.
It’s a day typically spent together with the whole family tucking into massive roast dinners or potluck bring-and-share feasts.
For some it’s a time to enjoy catching up on the college (American) football or perhaps watching a festive holiday parade.
For others it’s all about bundling up and heading outside for a lovely autumnal walk (advisably done before the meal ... when you still have enough energy to lift yourself out of your chair!).
Whilst the companies, shops and marketing corporations are relentless in their drive to commercialise any kind of national festival (sorry about the whole ‘black Friday’ thing), for me today has always been an invitation to gratitude – a time to press pause on the noise and rush of our busy lives and be thankful.
Of course, very little about this thanksgiving feels normal.
It’s tempting to look back at 2020 and think ... what a terrible year ... what in the world do we have to be thankful for?
And yet, the more I look around and the deeper I reflect, the more I sense within me this need to name even the simple blessings in my life for the gift they are.
Abraham Lincoln first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on 3 October 1863.
This was not a happy time for America.
This was the height of the American Civil War.
An odd moment to call for gratitude.
And yet, in his Thanksgiving Day proclamation, Lincoln wrote:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.
"To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. [...]
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens [...] to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
"And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”
It is poignant that Lincoln’s invitation to gratitude came at a time of great national suffering and loss and pain.
It came at a time of division and violence.
It came at a time when it felt like life itself was coming apart at the seams.
What a powerful moment to double-down on the importance of giving thanks: to God.
Gratitude in times like these feels like an act of defiant faith and hope and trust.
It is faith affirming that even in the midst of darkness, the source of all goodness in our lives is nothing less than ‘our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.’
It is courage to see signs of God at work in our midst, to anchor our hope in the knowledge that God is with us and for us and will never leave us or forsake us.
It helps us acknowledge that we live by grace – by the gracious mercy of God – and that our very existence comes as a gift.
It reminds us that no matter what we experience in this earthly life, God is God and his love never fails us.
In Christ we place our trust.
Gratitude is a way of life we practice and form into habit every time we gather together to worship.
Our prayers, our songs, our scriptures, our sacraments all instil within us this grammar of thankfulness.
Even the original word for Holy Communion – eucharisteo – means ‘thanksgiving’.
That’s what that act of worship is all about.
Thanking God for who he is, remembering what he’s done, rediscovering who we are in his sight.
I wonder how much we passively take for granted which we really ought to actively receive as a gift.
I wonder what it might look like to take this disposition of gratitude seriously in our moment.
Perhaps noticing and giving thanks for the little things helps us begin to see the world with new eyes.
I wanted to offer a prayer by Walter Brueggemann:
- - - - -
The witnesses tell of your boundless generosity,
and their telling is compelling to us:
You give your world to call the worlds into being;
You give your sovereign rule to emancipate the slaves and the oppressed;
You give your commanding fidelity to form your own people;
You give your life for the life of the world ...
broken bread that feeds,
poured out wine and binds and heals.
You give ... we receive ... and are thankful.
We begin this day in gratitude,
thanks that is a match for your self-giving,
gratitude in gifts offered,
gratitude in tales told,
gratitude in lives lived.
Gratitude willed, but no so readily lived,
held back by old wounds turned to powerful resentment,
slowed by early fears become vague anxiety,
restrained by self-sufficiency in a can-do arrogance,
blocked by amnesia unable to recall gifts any longer.
Do this yet. Create innocent spaces for us this day
for the gratitude we intend.
we will give,
we will tell,
we will live,
your gift through us to gift the world. Amen.
- - - - -
When I sat at my desk this evening, I intended to write a simple notice about a few change of plans for how we’ll be gathering for Sunday morning’s Church@Home service. Instead, I found myself writing a letter about gratitude.
I’ll send another note later updating you about Sunday services.
For now, I just wanted to say how grateful we are for you – for your love and support, for your prayers and your faithful service for our community, for all you are teaching us about being followers of Jesus.
We are grateful to be part of this church family. We are grateful for the ways we see God at work in you and in this place.
On this thanksgiving night, let us with grateful hearts cling tightly to the promises of our loving heavenly Father.
As Paul writes in his prison letter to the church in Philippi:
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)