Today’s holiday of Thanksgiving has its roots geographically close to us - after all the first Thanksgiving took place less than 200 miles from here. In 1623, Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts made the following proclamation for Thanksgiving: “The great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest…and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience. Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather…on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
This proclamation is all the more extraordinary in light of how destitute the circumstances were. Only 47 of the original 121 Pilgrims had survived the harsh winters, lack of food and disease. They had gone through a time of great difficulty; gotten to a point where many people would have quoted Scripture, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Instead, they never lost sight of their gratitude to God who is the source and giver of life. They knew that even their horrible experiences could never outweigh all that they had to be grateful for from God. And so they gave thanks.
We heard in our Gospel passage, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Giving thanks should be one of the most foundational things that we do as humans. As you know, a group from the parish just returned last week from a pilgrimage to Italy. Now some of our pilgrims did better than others at making attempts at the Italian language, but almost everyone learned one important word – grazie, or thank you. We need these words, especially in a foreign land, because we are very much at the mercy of those who know the place, so it is appropriate to show some humility by acknowledging the free assistance others give us. We give thanks.
But how often in the regularness of our lives to we forget to give thanks? We tend to take for granted so many of the wonderful things that people do for us each and every day. We forget to be grateful to a spouse who cooked dinner or did laundry or ran to the store, or who goes to work everyday. We figure, well, they were supposed to do that. But, to say “thank you,” is an act not only of kindness, but of humility. It is recognizing that I am incomplete without others. I need all of the other people who are in my life, both close and far. It is humility that makes us fully alive.
Our gratitude also grows when we begin to notice the beauty around us - both those things that are visible to the eye that we can see and those things, perhaps more precious, that we cannot see. What is essential in life is often invisible to the eye. Think about that. For example, trust is not visible to the eye. Hope is not visible to the eye. Love is not visible to the eye, and the abiding presence of our God is not visible to the eye. But it is what is important and it’s essential and it is there. And we have to notice and give thanks. We can in fact, be thankful for just about everything. Here are a few examples to ponder:
- I can be thankful for the mess to clean up after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.
- I can be thankful for the taxes I have to pay because it means I have a job and I am employed.
- I can be thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have had enough to eat.
- I can be thankful for the lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning, gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home.
- I can be thankful for all the complaining I do about the government because it means we have freedom of speech.
- I can be thankful for the parking spot I find at the far end of the lot because it means I am capable of walking.
- I can be thankful for my big heating bill because it means I am warm.
- I can be thankful for the person behind me in Church who sings off-key because it means I can hear.
- I can be thankful for the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.
- I can be thankful for weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been productive.
- I can even be thankful for the alarm that goes off early in the morning because it means that I am still alive.
If you were in Greece and you needed to say ‘Thank you,” you would say, “Eucharisto.” You may have recognized the fact that this is a word that you and I and countless Christians around the world use all the time. The word for thanks in Greek is “Eucharisto.” This is what we do each time we gather at the altar of God – the Eucharist is in fact the ultimate act of thanksgiving. We give God thanks because behind every gift of food, shelter, friendship or assistance stands the One giver of all good things. It is our glory, our great privilege to know this God and to give thanks to Him in true humility.
And so, today, let us be full of thanks. Let us express to our God and to our loved ones: grazie, gracias, merci, danke, eucharisto – or just plain old “thanks.”
May God bless you and your families today and every day. Happy Thanksgiving.