October 7 – Thanksgiving Sunday
After seeing the burial of someone she loved, Dorothy Ducas wrote a poem called Atheist’s Wail:
Even so, I have dared to profess unbelief once again.
But with mild west wind sweeping across wooded hills,
With the springlike earth’s odour so sweet and so dank,
With the hand of my loved one entwined in my own,
How awful it is to have no one to thank!
Today, or tomorrow, when we bow our heads and say our nervous thanks over the turkey and squash, will we know for sure just who it is we’re thanking, and why? Thanksgiving kindles within us a general sense of gratitude. For what? To whom? Are we so numb to the givenness of life itself that we have to scramble to find reasons for gratitude?
Dorothy Ducas wrote, “how awful it is to have no one to thank!” How awful it is to have Someone to thank and to have forgotten why!
Our thankfulness is often focused on material things—money to spend, food to eat, clothes to wear out or go out of style. An atheist would remind us we don’t need a God to thank for so many of the things we’re grateful for. Better to thank our governments, our employers, or our parents, for raising us in the richest part of the world. If we thank God for any of these things, we suggest people who don’t enjoy them are beyond God’s generosity. This business of thanksgiving isn’t as simple as we think!
We heard this morning from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ summing-up of how his disciples must live in this world. It seems his closest friends were struggling to emulate Jesus’ absolute trust in God. He was able to live on prayer and pocket change. They couldn’t forget what they had lost and they knew what they lacked.
Two words are key here: “Look” and “consider.” Meaning “focus” and “look and learn,” with a singular vision. The verb tenses command an ongoing response. Look! And keep on looking! Look right through the turkey on the table, the money in the bank, the clothes on our backs and the roofs over our heads.
There’s a vision God gives, and we can only get it when we stop taking inventory.
We look at our lives, and at the world around us, and we see what we have. We are thankful. If we don’t look further, we start to see what we don’t have. We start to worry we’ll ever have enough. We don’t know what enough looks like, so we keep worrying. Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be yours as well.” (6:33)
With corrected vision, we look at the world around us and see God’s kingdom—what must and can be. With corrected vision, we look at our own lives and see who we really are and whose we are.
We give thanks for a life to live and a vision to live up to. Then we discover—surprise!—that we have everything we need and more than enough to share.
This gratitude doesn’t drop off the dinner table and shatter on the floor. It doesn’t fly out the door when the turkey bones go to the green cart. It doesn’t get folded up and put away with the Thanksgiving tablecloth. Grace gives birth to gratitude. Gratitude grows into action.
How awful it would be to have no one to thank. How much more awful to have Someone to thank and to give thanks for the wrong things! How wonderful to know who it is we thank! The giver of life, who cares for us all. Give thanks that we can trust this God!
Many of us will observe Worldwide Communion on this Sunday in the secular Thanksgiving Weekend. May our communion be a true Eucharist, a real Thanksgiving for life, and life with God through Jesus Christ.
This column marks five full years of Progressive Lectionary! Thank you for sharing the journey thus far.