Summary: In our Readings for the Last Sunday in the Church year, we learn something important about giving thanks.
Well this Sunday is a big Sunday in the Church Year! If you didn’t know it, it is the LAST Sunday of this church year. Next week starts Advent and the beginning of a new journey through the church calendar. This Sunday is also called the Sunday of Fulfillment in which we celebrate Christ fulfilling his ultimate plan for his people. It is also Christ the King Sunday in which Christ is celebrated as our ultimate King and Lord. And on top of all that it is the Sunday in which many churches talk about Thanksgiving! So it can be kind of hard to figure out what to talk about!
I’m going to start by talking about Thanksgiving, and we will get to the other stuff along the way, because in reality, all these topics are very closely related. In fact, anything that we talk about comes back to remembering the mercy and love that Christ has for his people, and encouragement to remember this in all the seasons of our lives. So it’s not going to be as complicated as it sounds!
That’s good, because this is a complicated time of year. How many of you have already started making preparations for your Thanksgiving Dinner? What kind of stuff do you have to do to get ready? From plane reservations for those who are travelling to making sure you have the right kind of cranberries, to washing the nice plates, to getting the right sized Turkey, and on and on and on! It get a little Crazy!
For the last couple of years Anne and I start thinking about Thanksgiving really early because we reserve a Turkey from the Poultry Science Club at OSU. It’s kind of odd, they raise this Turkey, and care for it, and learn about Poultry Science, and do all kinds of hard work. And then I come through on the Last Thursday in November and eat it. Anne likes the Turkey because it’s lean and organic, I like the Turkey because after I eat until I can’t stand it anymore, I can put my fork down and say, “I made my yearly contribution to science!” But in order to do this, we have to plan, to be diligent about reserving a Turkey all the way back in October so we can be sure to get one.
So I have to admit that I was not as up on my Thanksgiving History as I thought! What do you picture about the first Thanksgiving Meal? All kinds of pictures of these elaborate spreads, and Indians and Pilgrims dressed in their best clothes with their faces washed and their hair combed. Obviously a well planned event, invitations sent out well in advance, coordinated with precision. (“OK, Frank you bring mashed potatoes, and Running Bear, you bring a pie).
But that isn’t at all what happened in 1621, what is officially celebrated as the first Thanksgiving! There was no great pre-planning, or invitations, or forethought. The day started because the Pilgrims were going to have a big meal to commemorate the Harvest. And they went out to shoot some game to cook that evening. Well, the local tribe heard the gunshots and figured they were under attack and got 90 fighting men together and rushed the Pilgrims. When they finally got close they realized that there was no attack, but a big meal and these 90 natives decided, that they were all dressed for war an nowhere to go. So they left, and used their weapons to hunt some game of their own and came back. And then they had 3 days of feasting and games. A great time was had by all, but it wasn’t really a religious, or a meaningful celebration. And truly we would not have an Annual Thanksgiving Dinner now if things had just stopped there.
What made this holiday a Holy Day was actually what happened 2 years later. Things were very different this time. People thought for sure that they were all going to die. The crops were not looking good, in fact for 2 whole months there was no rain, not even a sprinkle. There were no aqueducts, or hoses to turn on, or anything like that. And as their stores of food dwindled away, they realized that the future was bleak. So they did the only thing left that they could. They prayed, they called out to God, as Isaiah 51 says, they lifted their eyes to the heavens and waited on the Lord.
And the rains came, and the tears streamed down hungry faces, and the crops grew. So the real first Thanksgiving meal was planned. It wasn’t thrown together, it wasn’t happenstance, it was planned, and solemn, and meaningful. Because it was truly a celebration of something real, this time. It was a celebration of their dependence upon God. A Thanksgiving for God showing them where to look in difficult times, and thanksgiving for a God who delivers His people.