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Living With Thanksgiving

The original Thanksgiving proclamation came at a request of both houses of Congress to President Washington.  Congress had asked that President Washington “recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.” (Taken from a copy of the original proclamation.)  But the history runs deeper. In its origins, as both Congress and President Washington rightly recognized, Thanksgiving is not a secular holiday.  It is a special expression of human gratitude for divine deliverance.  As a distinctly American activity it happened first as best we know in October of 1621.  Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony “sent forth men fowling, so they might in a special manner rejoice together after they had gathered the fruit of their labor.”  According to Bradford’s History Of Plimoth Plantation the hunters brought back a “great store of wild Turkies,” and to this were added lobsters, clams, bass, corn, green vegetables, and dried fruits.  The Pilgrims did not celebrate thanksgiving in 1622.  But, in 1623, after a rainstorm ended a summer drought and saved the setters’ crops, the Plymouth populace again observed a day of thanks, probably towards the end of July.  And in November after crops were gathered, Governor Bradford ordered that “all the Pilgrims with your wives and little ones, do gather at  the meeting house, on a hill . . . there to listen to the pastor, and render thanksgiving to Almighty God for all His blessings.” (William Bradford, History of Plimoth Plantation) I find such history interesting.  But even more, I believe it to be instructive.  It is a past which reminds us of the intent of this holiday or holy day.  It is so easy to get lost amid the plenty – the family and friends, the football and food – that we can unwittingly forget why we gather. You see, the turkey on the table, whether for one or twenty sits there as a signaling presence of the bounty we share.  To live as a Christian means to live in gratitude for what old Governor Bradford called “the blessings of Almighty God.”  To reach for the essence of this day is to soak in what President Washington meant when he called for us to offer God our “sincere and humble thanks.” Did you know that old Benjamin Franklin wanted the Turkey to be the American bird instead of the eagle?  Franklin argued that the eagle was a scavenger – a buzzard of sorts – but that the turkey marked out a generosity of spirit for which we should be noted as a Christian people. Our past remembered with gratitude beckons us to a future beyond Thanksgiving.  In fact, for Christians, thanksgiving is never enough.  Poverty, both physical and spiritual, is a reality today every bit as much as it was in the past.  Gratitude, genuine God driven gratitude, becomes the motive power for true Christian living and serving.  Generosity of spirit marks us out as the one who returns to be sent out again committed to God’s vision of a country and people renewed and reborn.  May it be so for us on this holy day.