Thanksgiving came in the nick of time this year. After an especially acrimonious political season, it was time for some comfort food. Please pass the cornbread dressing and giblet gravy, and let the only disagreement around the table be about whether or not oysters would have made the dressing tastier. (My answer? No.)
Did we evermore need an occasion where we set aside our differences and come together as family, neighbors, and communities of people who are not necessarily alike, but who really do, deep down, wish each other well?
Thanksgiving is about the celebration of community. Church basements and large civic gathering places bring people together across lines of race and class. The aroma of turkey roasting fills the air as people who might otherwise be wary of one another enjoy the bounty of God's goodness together. At Thanksgiving, we celebrate the tattered-but-still-holding-together fabric of the United States of America.
A feast calls for fellowship. I think of those hardy Pilgrims who landed in Cape Cod in 1621 and what a daunting time they had. Half of them died from disease that first year, and all of them would have died, had it not been for the kindness of the Native Americans who taught them how to farm in strange soil. Astonishingly, the harvest turned out well - crops in abundance, in addition to "a great store of wild turkeys," according to William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony. Against a backdrop of need and uncertainty - and instead of saying, "We'll save what we've harvested for next year," - the Pilgrims produced a feast and invited their friends who had helped them to come and be filled.
This was the precursor of our national Thanksgiving holiday, which was officially declared in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln during a time of division and war. Just the summer before, the bloody battle of Gettysburg had taken place. What did Lincoln do in such a situation? He listed America's continued blessings and called upon all to repent and cease disobedience to the God of peace.
In the face of our growing disunity today, let us go deeper and reclaim the values and traditions that hold us together as a people. Let us pray for God's guiding hand as we move toward an uncertain tomorrow. Let us remember that we are one nation under God, whose bounties, as Lincoln declared, are all around us.
The story is told of a man who was eating in a crowded restaurant. The empty seat at his table was the only one in the whole place. A waiter asked if he would mind having someone join him at his table. The man said no, and a stranger came over. The two of them sat silently until their food arrived. When it did, the fellow who had been there originally bowed his head to say a silent blessing. The other man asked him, "Excuse me, but do you have a headache?"
The man answered, "No, I like to thank God before I eat."
"Oh, you are one of those," said the other man. "Me? I never give thanks; I earn what I get by my smarts and the sweat of my brow. I don't say thank you to anybody. I just start right in."
"You are just like my dog," the first man said. "He does exactly the same thing when food is placed before him."
Gratitude keeps us human. Gratitude for one another. Gratitude to God. We have so much to be thankful for.