Thanksgiving Day, Yr C Nov 28, 2019
Today’s Thanksgiving Day traditions seem a far cry from their historic origins. Yes, In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
Now days it seems it’s the gateway holiday into the winter shopping season. Even before black Friday we have the black Friday sales. But this is also a holiday around food as well- what to cook and how to cook it , what to eat and how to eat it, and how much exercise you’ll need to work it off when it's all over.
And now that our minds are focused on food, what we might soon be cooking, or which dish we most look forward to, the gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day is an interesting choice. John’s gospel says: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
It should be obvious to most that our civic and religious Thanksgiving holiday is not about food. Even the non-religious among us admit that Thanksgiving is at the very least a day in which we acknowledge what we have and what is important in our lives.
For Christians, Thanksgiving Day is about giving thanks to God, the creator of all. The fact is, however, that when we give thanks to God for all we have, we are most often thankful for the “food that perishes,” as Jesus puts it. We might be thankful for our new car, for our home, for food, for clothing, for our job, and for money to pay our bills, things that are important, but they are all things that perish.
There is certainly nothing wrong with giving thanks for the perishables in our lives, but that’s not the question Jesus is prompting. Jesus is asking where we place our faith. The gospel lesson doesn’t ask us to list the things for which we are thankful, the gospel lesson asks us to reflect on our faith and to receive the true bread, which gives life to world.
We can certainly be thankful for our material wealth, for our homes, for our jobs, and for the food on our tables this Thanksgiving, we should not mistake thankfulness for faith.
It IS a common practice at Thanksgiving for congregations and other community groups to gather food for food pantries, or assist at soup kitchens, perhaps offering Thanksgiving dinner to those who are hungry or alone at this special time. For some, unfortunately, this is motivated by a sense of guilt, that we have so much and are feasting so excessively- maybe if we remember those who have less than us, it will ease our consciences.
Being thankful for turkey and stuffing won’t feed the hungry. Thankfulness for a closet full of clothing won’t clothe the naked. Thankfulness for a good home and a good job won’t house the houseless or right the economic injustice in our society.
Being thankful is important, but it is an outcome of our faith.
And we are gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day in our faith to give thanks, seeking not the bread that perishes, but the bread of life who gives life to the world.
In the gospel, after the feeding of the multitudes with the loaves and fishes and all the baskets full of leftovers, Jesus has gone away from the crowds. He says those who sought him out: you come looking for me not because of the miracle, but because of the free food. Do not seek the bread that perishes but for the bread that endures eternally.
Jesus brings up something different- He is talking about bread from heaven but not the same bread that fed the Hebrews in the wilderness. The bread he speaks of endures, it never gives out, never turns stale, it is food for a new and different life.
The Spirit moves us to participate in the generous life of Emmanuel: God-with-us, constantly practicing thanks-giving. Our faith in Jesus and our participation in God’s mission will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and set things to right in the world.
Jesus is announcing a New Feast and were that not enough, he identifies it with himself. I am the Bread of life, he calls out and every time we gather welcomes us to his table. In this Eucharistic Feast. There is bread enough for everyone. I'm here from heaven, Jesus says, I come straight from the Father's throne, not to take, but to give. Giving life to us and life to the world.
Thanks be to God.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.