In 1623, Governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony declared that we should “render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all his blessings.” This coming week we will celebrate our 397th Thanksgiving Day since Governor Bradford’s declaration. The governor arbitrarily chose the fourth Thursday in November, an ordinary day, to remind us to say "thanks" on a daily basis for the bounties God has heaped upon our lives.
Hundreds of years before Governor Bradford’s official declaration of a national day of thanks, the Psalmist penned his own declaration of Thanksgiving. Of the hundred and fifty Psalms in the Bible, the only Psalm that is explicitly labeled by the Psalmist as “A Psalm for Giving Thanks” is Psalm 100. And give thanks it does. The Psalmist shouts and sings, thanks and praises his thanksgiving message in five short verses.
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!” (v.1) reminds us that any Thanksgiving Day is not just an American holiday! This thanksgiving celebration is a cosmos-wide holy day. God is god of all the earth, all peoples, every plant, every turkey, every single thing. When the pilgrims at Plymouth first held their “day of thanksgiving” almost 400 years ago, the Native Americans conducted on that same day a “day of mourning,” myths of that first Thanksgiving notwithstanding. The protests by these first native peoples and their descendants have managed to do what countless sermons and essays have not been able to do: They have forced us to reexamine what the Psalmist means by the phrase, “Know that the Lord is God” (v.3) of “all the earth,” and “we all are God’s people.”
God is the God of the pilgrims, the Native Americans, the Palestinians and Israelis, of the poor and the not-poor, of our friends, and even of our enemies. The Lord is God, who makes it rain on the just and unjust. God makes the sun shine on the dandelion and the rose. The Lord is God who blesses “all the earth” with wealth to be shared in fair and equitable ways. The Lord is God, especially so, of those left out, uninvited, and still hungry long after we are still eating our turkey sandwiches and cranberry leftovers from our Thanksgiving feast.
I’d be the last person to snatch one iota of praise and esteem from those first pilgrims and their descendants, but I must hasten to say that Thanksgiving neither begins nor ends with them. As Peter Gomes, that great African American preacher reminds us, “Thanksgiving, if there is to be any at all, must begin and end with God.” At every Thanksgiving dinner, the preeminent unseen guest is God—God, the creator of “all the earth” and its inhabitants, human and otherwise. Comedian Allen Rossi tells the story of a dream he had: “There I was,” he writes, “sitting at a Thanksgiving table, ready to dive in. I looked across the table, and I suddenly realized that I was having Thanksgiving dinner with God. Fantastic! Then God sneezed—I didn't know what to say.”
On Thanksgiving Day in many West Virginian homes, alongside the turkey and fixin’s and chairs reserved for one’s loved ones, it is customary to place one empty chair. The empty chair serves as a reminder that no matter how many were already present, there was always room for one more. “God’s chair,” it was called. It was put there as a prophetic act in case an unexpected visitor showed up. Perhaps it’s time that all of us in this great capitalist nation, whom God has blessed with such bounty, include this Southern tradition of the “empty chair” into our Thanksgiving customs.
G.K. Chesterton likens physical food to food for both the mind and the soul. When God is at our Thanksgiving table, physical and spiritual food are part of the same blessing. He writes, “the purpose of having an open mind is the same as having an open mouth—so that we can close it on something nourishing.” Nothing more soul nourishing than that described by the Psalmist’s last word: “The Lord is good; the Lord’s steadfast love endures forever to all generations” (v.5). God wishes to bestow God’s love upon anybody, everyone, and everything “in all the earth.”
Kindergartner, Amanda Formica, in describing how best to cook Thanksgiving gravy, explains, “you stir flour in turkey juice. You must stir a lot. Then, you just dump it on the potatoes and turkey.” God’s love is like Amanda’s gravy. It’s well stirred and dumped all over us. God is gravy good, and God’s love endures forever.
All of us at BST are so thankful for your support of this remarkable place. Your financial gifts, your prayer support and your love is truly a blessing. Thank you!
May you and all the earth have a very Happy Thanksgiving Day!