As We Gather Together

Thanksgiving is a joyous holiday where we gather together with those we love to share that which we are most grateful for as we enjoy a delicious and abundant meal. Before the meal, families play games or cards. Some gather around the TV to watch a favorite team play football and get another glimpse of a six-legged turkey or even a turducken.

After a wonderful meal, we’re too full to eat pumpkin pie right away, so we sit around the table and share stories and memories. Later over more conversation and games late into the night, we finally enjoy that piece of pie (or maybe two). Filled with love and gratitude for our family and friends, we head home in an aura of joy.

Or maybe not.

That’s the vision we have in our head. But, for a lot of people, this is not what Thanksgiving is like.

The reality might be that there are those of whom once a year is too often to see them. The kids are all on their phones and not talking to anyone. There are fights over the football game, and the cousin who lost a fortune on the bet they made begins to drink heavily.

The turkey is dry as a bone and half the food is cold because it is impossible to time ten different dishes to be done at the same time with one stove. Your sister always brings some “new” recipe, which is hideous, but you have to eat and pretend you enjoy. There’s a family friend who continues to offend everyone with their racist, misogynistic, and homophobic jokes — and there’s a new family drama to tip toe around. You hope people fall into their turkey coma soon after the meal so you can sneak out early.

It’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia and ideal expectations of Thanksgiving. But whenever we gather together, we know that like most of life, Thanksgiving lives in the tension of joy and suffering, of our greatest hopes and the reality of our humanity.

Aware of all of this, as well as the blessings we have already received from God, we turn to the direct and honest words of the psalmist, to offer a prayer for this Thanksgiving holiday. Let us pray with the words of Psalm 26.

 

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.[1]

O Lord, we will soon gather together to ask your blessing. As we so often bear the fruits of cranberries, pumpkin, and squash, let us also remember to bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.[2] Help us find something nice to say to everyone. Don’t let us fall into the temptation of arguing about what’s happening in Washington, Syria, or on our southern border. Deliver us from the urge to prove we’re right.

 

I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

Please purge us of hurtful jokes and racist statements. If we hear them, give us the courage to interrupt with grace as an ally to those they hurt. If they are uttered, let them be drown out by other conversations. May love rule our discussions.

 

I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

Help us, O Lord, to find things to talk about that do not cause an argument. Remind us of the many moments we are thankful for, especially those involving the ones we are celebrating with. Help us walk away when a family member begins to criticize. Give us the wisdom to redirect conversation before arguments begin.

 

O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides. Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty, those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.

Let all the food be good, and even if it isn’t, that we would be thankful we are able to sit with those we love for a good meal. Let us remember those who have not homes, family, or food to celebrate. Fill the children with your spirit so they would just eat whatever is in front of them — or fill us with your spirit to allow them to simply eat crescent rolls and pie. Let us be fully present to all that is before us, rather than Black Friday deals or whatever else may be yet to come.

 

But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.   My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.

Help us to savor not only the food but also the company. Teach us to enjoy our family because one day there will be empty seats around this table. Comfort ones who mourn those who are not present around the table this year, and may we remember them joyfully. Remind us to be thankful for more than an early escape, but to rest in the goodness and chaos that often is Thanksgiving.

Holy God, it is always good to give thanks, for your gifts are many and your love unending. As we gather together, may we be ever aware of your blessings. As you have redeemed us and been gracious to us, may we offer the same to others this Thanksgiving and in all our days to come. Amen.

On #Thanksgiving, we often bear the fruits of cranberries, pumpkin, & squash. Let us also remember to bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.… Click To Tweet

 

[1] Psalm 26 (NRSV)

[2] Galatians 5:22-23a (NRSV)

 

If you are interested in more prayers like this, consider checking out my book:

Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for WorshipPrayers 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.

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2 Thoughts to “As We Gather Together”

  1. We wish you and yours a joyous Thanksgiving, Michelle.

    Thanksgiving I spend on my own,
    not feast, no games, no toasts.
    The poppies on the graves have blown,
    and now will come the ghosts.
    Their company is not malign;
    sorrow rides not in their wake,
    and they take me back in time,
    when there was more to give than take.
    I’m caught up in their bonhomie,
    made sharper in a dirty war
    where they made it plain for all to see
    that there are things worth dying for.
    Wrapped in the laughter, blood and bone,
    perhaps this year they’ll bring me home.

    I hope it’s OK to add a Youtube link to go along with the sonnet – Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’

    1. Peace and joy to you and yours as well Andrew.

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