Thanksgiving is a funny holiday. Is it a religious one?, or historical?, political?, cultural? or nationalistic? In our post-modern setting we view the original myth of the sharing between Pilgrims and Native-Americans through the lens of the hermeneutics of suspicion. While not necessarily Christian in totality, it does harken back to the worldview that was primarily shared between those that framed and shaped what would become our national identity and metanarrative.
President George Washington made a proclamation in 1789 declaring the last Thursday of November to be a day of thanksgiving, echoed and transformed to the 4th Thursday by President Abraham Lincoln in his proclamation of 1863, the holiday has its roots in an experience and expression of gratitude.
This act of thanksgiving, recognizing that the gift of life as we have it originated outside our actions, beyond our power. The only response to such as gift is gratitude, thanksgiving: an expression of "thank you" in our actions, relationships and being.
Deuteronomy 26 tells of the celebration of the first-fruits. The Israelites, at the end of the articulation of the laws that were to structure their communal life, were instructed to recognize that the One they called God had brought them out of the wandering life of homeless immigrants and liberated them from the slavery of Egypt in order to give them a land of milk and honey, a life of freedom and mercy. They were instructed to bring the first fruits of their land and work as a gift to God, a recognition of God's mercy, a celebration of God's liberating love and people-forming justice.
John 6:24-35 is known as the Bread of Life passage. John is retelling the Jesus story for a threatened, small-group of Jesus followers who have no first-hand experience or memory of Jesus. In this passage he contrasts physical and spiritual needs and hungers, as well as notions of work and faith. To come to Jesus is to believe in Jesus: an invitation to find and found life in relationship rather than activism. Who we are comes less from what we do then where we find our roots. The wonders and signs offered by God in the desert weren't meant to impress the people, but to reveal God as one who sustains life, nurtures it, provides. In this same way Jesus is like manna from heaven, source of a relationship that frees us from unsustainable activism, or a return to rule following and legislative morality.
Gratitude. Recognizing that our source is outside of us. Expressing that life is a gift. Paying it forward. An experience that transcends nationalism, politics and cultural perspectives. It's the expression of what it means to be human, to live in community: to be alive. That's what we are called - through scripture - that may or may not have influence our framers and shapers - to celebrate. Faith, life, is merely our response of "thank you" to what God has done.
How does that resonate with how we celebrate our gratitude today?
How do we experience Jesus as this bread from heaven who gives life to the world in our pluralism?
How is such a belief, action and world-view opposed to the society in which we now live, work and rest?