My most recent post from the Bennington Banner. Here is the link to the newspaper site: https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/ban-l-speakingofreligion-1124_web,557228?
As I write this, it’s Thanksgiving morning, and the feast lies ahead, not behind. But by the time you read this, many of us will be sick of turkey and all the leftover trimmings. In fact, many of us only eat the bird once a year, and this might be way: there’s no hangover like a Thanksgiving (Turkey) hangover. And so when Thanksgiving 2019 rolls around we’ll be looking forward to the bird so much, well, that we might have to give it up again until Thanksgiving rolls around in 2020.
Such is the cycle of life.
And the cycle of Thanksgiving.
We all know the story of the first Thanksgiving, that three-day feast celebrating the saving of the Pilgrims by the Native Americans, who taught the Europeans how to bring health and nutrition out of the strange North American fields. Weakened by illness and malnutrition, the Pilgrims learned how to grow corn, sap trees, and fish in the strange rivers, and, after their first harvest of corn in 1621, they celebrated and gave thanks.
But as a national holiday, Thanksgiving came later. Many states began having yearly celebrations of giving thanks, but the national holiday didn’t begin until 1863. In the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that the whole nation should ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”
To Lincoln, Thanksgiving wasn’t necessarily about thanking God for all the wonderful things we have in life. To Lincoln it was about thanking God for God’s unconquerable strength that supports us as we seek to do God’s will in our world. It was about thanking God for God’s unwavering love that enfolds us, even, in fact most especially, when we don’t deserve it.
In the Christian faith we call that Grace.
Lincoln was asking all Americans to pause for a moment to thank God for God’s grace, and to commend to God all those who were widowed or orphaned, or made to mourn or suffer, because of the conflict that broke the nation.
Lincoln asked all Americans to pray for the healing of the nation.
We are living in another time of brokenness in our nation. We have replaced debate with argument. We have no civil discourse. Our differences grow wider, and rather than trying to understand each other’s points of view, we drive the wedges deeper with conflict instead of resolution.
We forget that at the heart of our arguments are people. Individuals, not object groups.
Lincoln prayed for the widowed and the orphaned. Throughout the Bible the people of God are commanded to care for widows and orphans. But the phrase “widows and orphans” is one of those code-phrases in the Bible that we should notice. Because it doesn’t JUST mean widows and orphans. In ancient times, women were bound to the men in their lives, fathers and husbands, and when a husband died that woman’s identity was essentially lost. In ancient times, children were bound to their parents in the same way.
And so, when we read “widows and orphans” we know the text MEANS widows and orphans, yes, but it ALSO means something else: it means those who have been devalued by society, whose property, voice, dignity, and personhood have been voided. In the United States of America in 2018, we could add to widows and orphans: the incarcerated, the hungry, the homeless, the addicted, the sick, the lonely, the LGBTQ community; anyone our society has labelled as “the other.”
Thanksgiving is a day when Abraham Lincoln invited the people to pray for God’s grace to heal our nation, and to be with those who had been lost, or who had sacrificed in the Civil War. To be with those who were in fear, or in mourning, or whose lives remained in danger as the national strife waged on.
This Thanksgiving, here, in 2019, is an excellent opportunity for us to echo Lincoln’s prayers.
May God give us hearts of love for those who have been lost, or devalued, or marginalized in the midst of our national strife. For those who have sacrificed for what they believe in, or who they are, and for those who mourn alongside them.
May God’s grace knock down the walls that separate our hearts from one another.
May God grant healing for our community, our nation, and our world.