For many people, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday: lots of good food, family – and no presents. Or least, not until Friday. It’s almost like Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday in its own right anymore. It’s more like the Eve before a marathon holiday of over-extending belly, stress, and wallet that begins at midnight on Friday and goes through January 1.
And this year, we have the added joy of coming into our Thanksgiving meals and expectations with an appetizer of a contentious election. The New York Times wrote an article last week about families staying away from the Thanksgiving table this year.
The election is over, but the repercussions in people’s lives may be just beginning as families across the United States contemplate uncomfortable holidays — or decide to bypass them — and relationships among friends, relatives and spouses are tested across the political divide.
If we thought it was hard in the past to listen to our uncle’s racist jokes (even when he’s sober), our sister-in-law’s constant soap-boxing about a living wage, or that one cousin’s perennial argument about prayer in schools – what is this year going to be like? (Note: The names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent because I’m not describing my family…)
Luckily, the Bible is always God’s living Word. We might be surprised to find that there is an actual Thanksgiving text in the Gospels:
All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15:1-2 (CEB)
Grumbling about with whom we eat is nothing new.
We have the tax collectors who are always trying to get us to invest in their latest “amazing investment opportunity” or hanging around the bedroom where everyone keeps their purses. And then there are the sinners – swearing, drinking too much, always complaining how life isn’t fair.
It’s OK that Jesus is trying to bring these folks to repentance – but does he have to bring them to Thanksgiving dinner?
But the Pharisees can be just as bad with all of their micro-managing of the meal and really just want everyone to go sit in the living room and watch football so they can do it the way they want it (and not worry whether all the good-intentioned helpers have really washed their hands or not). And the experts! Those know-it-alls can’t keep a word to themselves. This is how the table is supposed to be set, this is when we should eat the meal, this is how the leftovers should be used.
It’s OK that Jesus is trying to bring these folks to a fuller understanding God – but does he have to bring them to Thanksgiving dinner?
And, of course, Jesus does. Jesus eats with everyone. There was probably conversation and activity that he did not always appreciate and approve of. But Jesus continued to eat with people that would not normally sit down at the table together. But Jesus loved them all, even when he disagreed with them. Jesus gathers and welcomes.
You don’t need to be Jesus this Thanksgiving, just be yourself. But as your Jesus-following self, you may find the need to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile. I encourage you to be loving whether you are sitting next to the tax collector, sinner, Pharisee, or legal expert.
I also offer this piece of advice: in addition to whatever food item you’re supposed to bring, bring along 3 conversation topics to help you move out of a conversation that might not be life-giving. And if you don’t need them at Thanksgiving dinner, then you’ve got something to talk about to the person you are standing in line with on Friday.
Thanksgiving is a secular holiday but as Christians, we have adopted it as one of our own. Gratitude is central to our Christian identity. The Sacrament we are about to share is actually called the “Thanksgiving” as its Greek name, Eucharist, means giving thanks.
Thanksgiving, gratitude, giving thanks: these are not merely a reaction to our circumstances but a way of life. It is the way we come into our day and go into the night. It is at the same time an attitude of humility and generosity.
Prayer of Thanksgiving
God, giver of all good things, it is in your abundant provision that we gather tonight. With your word, the earth grows plants that yield seeds and fruit trees that bear fruit with seeds inside it, and you have called it good. In your love, you provide both manna and quail as you free us from what binds and oppresses us. Even now, you set the heavenly banquet table around which all will gather. Your provision knows no end.
For this, we give you thanks.
Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, the Living Water, your grace sustains us. Like a mother nursing her beloved child, you feed us with your very body. You teach us to share in your ministry of compassion, wholeness and reconciliation. The generosity of your love fills our empty places so that we may bring your love to the empty places in this world. Your provision knows no end.
For this, we give you thanks.
Holy Spirit, truth in this world, you hold us in communion. You dwell within us, continuing to make real the presence of Christ. You make us like a tree replanted by streams of water, so that we may bear fruit at just the right time. Though we are many, it is your communion that makes us one Body in Christ. Your provision knows no end.
For this, we give you thanks.
With thankful hearts, we gather at your Table. Please feed us once again with the loaf and the cup. May they be the very Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation, binding us with Christ and one another. May the grace of this Table extend beyond this time and place so that we are joined with the faithful of every time and place.
As a sign of our communion in you, we join our voices to pray, using the words most familiar to each of us: Our Father…
The first thing Jesus did with both the loaf and the cup was to give thanks for it. We hear these words every time we celebrate this meal, but do we reflect on the depth of this thanksgiving?
- God’s provision
- for the company with whom Jesus shares it
- for the broken body that will bring wholeness to the broken
- for the blood shed that will bring the forgiveness of sins to many
- for our communion here tonight.
The invitation to this Table is not exclusive. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, Pharisees and legal experts. Regardless of how you come to this Table tonight, know that you are welcome. Jesus desires to eat this meal with you.
Prayer After Communion
Dear Jesus, every time we eat and drink this meal together, we do it in remembrance of you. This Great Thanksgiving is a reminder of your love and provision. As we leave the Table nourished in body and soul, we ask your blessing on the many tables we will eat at this week. May they be tables of blessing for those who break bread together. We also lift up those who will not know tables of blessing this week due to poverty, loneliness, incarceration, broken relationships or distance. May you provide for them as each needs and may the leftovers of this Table and our Thanksgiving tables not be limited to food but also love and compassion for those in need. Amen.
 Tavernise, Sabrina and Seelye, Katherine Q., “Political Divide Splites Relationships – and Thanksgiving, Too,” November 15, 2016, source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/us/political-divide-splits-relationships-and-thanksgiving-too.html
If you are looking for more liturgical resources, please consider checking out my books:
Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for Worship Prayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.
Come to the Table: Communion Liturgies of Invitation to Celebrate and Experience the Love of God is a collection of communion liturgies inviting worshippers to experience and respond to the Gospel. These meaningful liturgies enhance and reinforce the biblical message of the day. Worshippers are welcomed to the Table to experience the Word in preparation to go out into the world and live it. Come to the Table includes liturgies for the entire liturgical year providing pastors with a valuable resource in worship planning.