Summary: Will your place be empty at the great Thanksgiving feast in Heaven called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb?
EMPTY PLACES AT THE FATHER’S TABLE
In the year 1620 a small wooden ship that had been christened the “Mayflower” set said from Plymouth, England with a passenger list of 102 people, bound for the New World colony of Virginia. After 65 days on the open sea they say their first glimpse of their new home but it wasn’t Virginia, it was Cape Cod in what is now called the State of Massachusetts. It was November and the weather was already growing very cold. Since there was no good harbor and no place to land, the ship turned south in search of a place to land.
After weeks of scouting for a suitable settlement area, the Mayflower’s passengers finally landed at Plymouth on Dec. 26, 1620. The Mayflower’s captain, Christopher Jones, had threatened to leave the Pilgrims unless they quickly found a place to land, but the ship remained at Plymouth during the first terrible winter.
Who were these passengers? Most of them were people who were seeking religious freedom and a new life, and a chance to build a better nation. They had become Separatists from the Church of England. Even though the Church of England had broken away from the Roman Catholic Church under the Pope, these Separatists didn’t feel like the break had been enough. They desired even more reform and a greater measure of freedom to worship than what the Church of England would allow.
Because they were poor, working class people, they were unable to purchase tickets to come to the New World so they made a contract with the Plymouth Trading Company. They would settle the new colony and work for the company for 7 years as payment for their land grants and the expenses of sailing to the colony and building a settlement.
When they left England it didn’t take long until problems began to arise. Along with the Separatists, who became known as Pilgrims, there were those who were crew and other passengers who were not religious at all. This second group was called “Strangers”. The Pilgrims and Strangers eventually had to learn to tolerate one another before real trouble could develop and they all agreed to the Mayflower Compact that established their own self-imposed government and laws.
But not all of those who sailed from England with the promise of religious freedom and the New World lived long enough to see their dreams come true. Two people died on the voyage, including one young child who died 3 days before land was sighted and the pilgrims arrived off the coast of the colonies. Due to the extreme winter conditions, lack of proper shelter and low supplies of food and medicine, nearly half of all who had landed in December were dead before the snow melted and spring came.
It is doubtful that any would have survived that second winter had it not been for the friendly Indian tribe that lived in the area. Two Indians, Samoset and Squanto, taught the pilgrims how to grow corn by building mounds of earth and placing a fish under the seed as fertilizer.
And so it was that, after two years, in 1623, the Pilgrims invited the Indians to the first feast of thanksgiving in remembrance of what God had done to help them survive and establish their village after they had first landed on Plymouth Rock.
I’m sure that as they sat around the tables on that first Thanksgiving, that the heart of those who had survived was saddened by the fact that there were so many empty places around the table?
Several had lost wives, some had lost husbands, and then there were the children who didn’t make it either. I wonder how many would have made that journey to establish a new colony and change the course of history if they had known what hardships they would have to face?
Yet, in the face of every adversity, they had persevered and now it was time to give thanks. They lived for religious freedom and now they were going to obey the Word of God by doing what Paul said that we all should do in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
I can just imagine that it was hard for them to give thanks to God when they thought of all who had died. It was hard for them to be completely thankful when they weren’t even in the place that they had wanted to be. But they gave thanks anyway – and that’s something that we must all learn to do.
How many of us can say that we are where we intended to be at this point in our lives? Just as it was for those pilgrims and strangers so many years ago, we are set upon a long journey. Our destination is before us and we have such great plans for the future but none of us know the dangers and troubles that lay before us. We are looking for a new home, a new freedom and a new life in a new world.