Thanksgiving Day
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

 

With grateful and generous hearts, we pray without ceasing, giving thanks to you, O God, our rock and our salvation. Amen.

As another Thanksgiving Day comes upon us, we are reminded, as we should be, that all our days should be days of giving thanks to God for all the many blessings that have been bestowed on us. However, in this country, we have set aside a certain day on our calendar that we call Thanksgiving Day, and on which we commemorate not only God’s goodness throughout the current year, but also a particular event in our history.

No doubt you will hear again this year an account of how this national holiday came into existence. In fact, there is absolutely no doubt you will hear it again this year because I am about to tell it to you again.

The story begins well over a year before the actual event. In the summer of 1620, a sizeable group of adventuresome citizens set out in two ships from Southampton, England, with the intention of establishing a new colony in the Virginia territory of the New World. No sooner had they started, however, when one of the ships, The Speedwell, proved unseaworthy. They were forced to return to England and some of them gave up, but those who wanted to try again crowded aboard the remaining ship, The Mayflower, and set out to sea once again.

The trip took much longer than expected: sixty days, in fact, and because their navigational instruments were primitive, unbeknownst to them, they were blown hundreds of miles off course. When they finally sighted land, it wasn’t Virginia at all, but what we now know as New England.

They had hoped to arrive and build shelter before winter set in, but their extra time at sea and their misjudged more northern landing cost them dearly. Overexposure to the elements led to all kinds of diseases and before spring came, exactly half of the 102 people who had set out from England were buried in unmarked graves—unmarked because they didn’t want the Indians to know how decimated their ranks had become.

When spring finally did come, what was left of the crew prepared to return to England in the rented ship, and because their dream had become a nightmare, the colonists discussed returning with them. However, in a gesture of real hope and courage, they all decided to stay on.

With the help of some friendly Indians, they planted some grain, built more substantial shelters for themselves, and in the fall, gathered in a harvest more abundant than anything they had ever known in the old country.

As the time for the first anniversary of their landing came near, they discussed how they should commemorate the occasion. The first suggestion was that they make it a day of mourning for all the losses they had suffered that first year, and for remembering and honoring the dead.

But then, another suggestion was put forth—that it should be a day of thanksgiving. For even though they had lost a great deal, there was still much cause for gratitude. After all, the dream had survived, the Indians had been unexpectedly hospitable, and the land proved to be fertile beyond their wildest imaginations. So, why not focus on gratitude rather than mourning. Needless to say the idea of thanksgiving won out.

And it is perhaps that one decision that may have had as much to do with the future development of this country than anything else. That’s why Thanksgiving is a national holiday as well as a religious one; it’s why Thanksgiving Day holds significance for nonreligious folk and religious folk alike. Though I would argue that it holds more significance for us since we know where and to whom and in what direction to extend our thanks.

But the fact of the matter, and what Thanksgiving Day reminds us of and teaches us all is this: That in every situation of ambiguity – in other words, almost every day of our lives – we have a choice. On the one hand, we can choose to focus on what we have lost and of all the hardships we have experienced, and the combinations of the forces that are going against us. Or, we can choose to focus on the things that are going well for us–the things we have to celebrate and give thanks for, those realities that are energizing us rather than diminishing us. In every situation of ambiguity, both possibilities are present.

What our early national forbearers chose, in making their first anniversary a day of thanksgiving rather than a day of mourning, was a crucial factor in the way they proceeded to negotiate all the other challenges they faced in those early years.

And as we approach another Thanksgiving season, we could do well to remind ourselves that what was true for them is true for us as well. Namely, that in every situation, we too have a choice; and of these, the wiser by far is the choice of gratitude.

So go home and get ready for the big day. Eat lots of turkey, watch football, go shopping, visit relatives, take an afternoon nap. But don’t forget, in the middle of all the hoopla, to stop, and to remember what day it is, and to give thanks to God for all of it.

And may this Thanksgiving Day find us not only grateful, but wise enough to count all our blessings and to know from whence and from whom they have come.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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