One of my spiritual mentors at Wellspring is a man named George. He notices patterns, and he pointed out a key pattern once in our worship planning when we were planning a communion service. He said, “Every time Jesus blesses a meal it follows a pattern: he (1) takes that which is being offered (bread and fish in the feeding of the multitudes or bread and cup in the last meal with his disciples), (2) gives thanks (3) breaks the bread and (4) then gives it to others.” While it was something I took for granted, the significance of that pattern did not escape me as George was sharing that insight.
As I have reflected upon that reality, I have come to the opinion that perhaps we don’t really get what our national holiday known as Thanksgiving is all about. We are a society of consumers, and our consumption can be quite conspicuous. We are people who may get what Thanksgiving is all about when counting our blessings, but we tend to turn Christian thinking of gratitude into an antithetical holiday of gluttony in our gatherings and celebrations.
I saw a video that was produced by a church in Charlotte, NC, for Christmas. It was a clever video where a man and woman wake up gift-wrapped and yell, “I’m alive!” The children, too, are gift-wrapped, and as they begin their day, everything is seen as a gift: electricity, running water, breakfast food, a briefcase, and a car. While I respect the message that we must see everything as a gift of God, I had a problem with the video. For every scene, I envisioned people in this world who do not have those things: quality of life, clean water, ample food, transportation, or even shelter. Leave it to me to throw cold water on a good message that challenges us not to take these things for granted.
What I realized was that this reflects our normal American way of doing Thanksgiving. We are thankful for those things that we have that others don’t have. It has become enough to make us thankful for those things that are blessings not afforded to everyone around the world. This is most assuredly NOT the message of Jesus.
Taking. Jesus takes the bread or the cup or the fish. He receives it as a gift. When the child offers the gift of loaves and fish that will become enough to feed the multitudes, Jesus considers it a gift. He receives it on behalf of all whom it will bless.
Giving Thanks. Jesus then offers a prayer of thanksgiving. Whether in the feeding of the multitudes or the last meal he shares with his followers, he offers a prayer of authentic gratitude. It is an acknowledgment that God is the purveyor of all good gifts and that nothing we have comes from any other source than God.
Giving. Jesus then gives. Even before he takes any for himself, he gives it to others. Jesus is simply not Jesus unless he is focused on others … pouring himself out for others even to the point of death. The end result of his “thanksgiving” is that he is not focused at all on privileges or consumer goods that we so often think of as our blessings. He gives thanks for a God who provides daily bread and abundant living and then seeks to be an agent of that provision himself.
So my thought here is that perhaps the best way of giving thanks is to do more than pause to thank God for the modern conveniences that we consider blessings. Not a little more; a lot more. My thought is that we could perhaps use our season of Thanksgiving to become agents of God’s provision to others.
When we thank God for clean water, perhaps we ought to support efforts to provide clean water for the huge part of our global population that doesn’t have access to clean water. When we thank God for the food we conspicuously consume, what would happen if we made sure that people around the world have access to the nutrition they so desperately need? When we give thanks for health and life, perhaps we should focus our efforts on providing for basic healthcare needs of the millions around the world who suffer and die from ailments we handily treat with vaccinations, prescriptions and even over-the-counter medications.
A friend pointed out several years ago that we would do well if we simply observed the name of the holiday. It is “Thanksgiving” and not “Thanks-taking.” May this season become for us a way to become agents of God’s provision as we “take, offer thanks, break bread and give” our gifts and ourselves wholly for the God who calls us into solidarity with the least of these our sisters and brothers.
That Thanksgiving , my friends, would transform our world! Happy Thanksgiving!