In a few short hours, across the United States, citizens of this country will gather to celebrate as one country our national holiday of Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving was established by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 as the Civil War was being fought upon our soil, a divided country, brought together on this day to pause, reflect, and give thanks. It wasn’t a picturesque scene. Our country was torn apart, literally brother against brother. The bloodiest battles raged. Mourning and sorrow were commonplace. The division in our country today didn’t even come close to the division being experienced at that time.
Into that moment, President Lincoln spoke these words:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, 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.
America’s Great Thanksgiving – a call to leave behind the striving and the sorrow for a day – to gather as one and “look up” to God as a nation in gratitude and awe. To “fervently implore” Him to bring peace, harmony, tranquility and union to the land.
But before America’s Great Thanksgiving, before the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, before the turkeys and football, before pumpkin pie and hot apple cider…before all of that, we, the Church, were invited to a different meal.
We were invited to engage in our own Great Thanksgiving.
Christ himself has extended the invitation. “On the night in which he gave himself up for us,he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: ‘Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ When the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: ‘Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'”
The liturgy that accompanies this meal of Communion is aptly named “The Great Thanksgiving”. It starts with this declaration and response:
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing,
always and everywhere to give thanks to you,
Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
It IS right to give our thanks and praise.
It is good and it is joyful.
And not just on Thanksgiving Day, but always and everywhere.
In a few short days, across the entire world, citizens of our eternal home will gather to celebrate as one people our celebration of hope through communion.
The Great Thanksgiving was given to us by Jesus on the night before he was to be betrayed, beaten, and crucified for us. He brought us together at this table to pause, reflect, and give thanks. And no matter how bad life has been for the Church, each week, each time we come to the table, we remember the hope we have been given and the life we participate in.
He meets us there. He reminds us of who we are in Him.
This year, perhaps more than other years, we may find ourselves needing that reminder.
Perhaps this year, we need to gather our children close and remind them of this promise, this celebration, this Great Thanksgiving that we get to participate in. We can help them to understand that sometimes bread and wine is a greater feast than all the turkey, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie in the world.
Perhaps this year has been particularly hard for us personally and gathering to give thanks, to see family, to experience joy has left us numb, sad, and lonely. Then we of all people must remember the Great Thanksgiving ushers us to a place of eternity and grace and provides us with the eternal hope of life with God forever. We must remember that gratitude is more than saying “Thank you” but living a life of awe. We must join in the meal, hear the words of life, and now that one day we will “feast at his heavenly banquet.”
Wherever we find ourselves this year, may we know the richness of His grace and may this prayer lead us into even deeper lives of gratitude and love with one another.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.
By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.
Through your Son Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father,
now and forever. Amen.
Excerpts of the liturgy taken from “A Service of Word and Table I,” Copyright © 1972, The Methodist Publishing House; Copyright © 1980, 1985, 1989, 1992 UMPH.
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About the author
Refocus Ministry was started by Christina Embree, wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family, Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com