Dear St. Paul Family,
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”
In many ways, like Christmas, some would have us form an opinion about the “true meaning” of Thanksgiving. The history most of us learned as children tells us that in 1621 the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe came together for a feast after a bountiful harvest. This leads some to view Thanksgiving as at least a religious holiday, if not a Christian one. It is true that two of our most revered Presidents, Washington in 1789 and Lincoln in 1863, asked our country to observe an official day of Thanksgiving to God. Lincoln’s proclamation made it a federal holiday to be observed on the last Thursday of November. Some would point to President Franklin Roosevelt as the one who first “consumerized” Thanksgiving. In 1939 November had five Thursdays, so he moved it from the fifth to the fourth to allow more time for Christmas shopping. Since then, for many this observance has taken on the form of just another day off work to watch a parade, eat too much, catch a football game or two, or hit the stores for early Christmas shopping deals.
I don’t think we ought to get too worked up about all of this. The Lutheran Church does not even recognize Thanksgiving as a Feast or Festival, but as an “occasion”. Church Thanksgiving services are more in the American tradition than anything. I think we should focus less on “Thanksgiving” and more on “thanksgiving.” In Paul’s Epistles, he commended constant thanksgiving by “giving thanks always” (Ephesians 5:20) and “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Depending on the Church season, we are likely to hear “It is truly good, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord . . . .” in our liturgy. In Luther’s explanation of the First Article of The Apostles’ Creed, he reminds us that our Creator “gives me food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestic servants, house and home, and more.” Luther goes on to say, “We ought, therefore, daily to recite this article,” as a means of thanksgiving.
Do I think that we should stop observing Thanksgiving? Not at all. There are other national holidays that we observe at church – New Year’s, Veterans Day, etc. I am simply suggesting that we not save up our thanks for just one day.
Nun Danket Alle Gott! Now Thank We All Our God (Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 895, verse 3)
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God, whom earth and heav’n adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
Ross Davis, Congregation President