Almighty God our Father, your generous goodness comes to us new every day.
By the work of your Spirit lead us to acknowledge your goodness,
give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Prayer of the Day for a Day of Thanksgiving
Days of Thanksgiving in North America are certainly older than the founding of the United States. While there is much legend in the traditional story of the pilgrim-era “first Thanksgiving,” the New England colonies regularly proclaimed official days of either fasting or giving thanks. As we gather in 2020, elements of fasting, especially from gathering with others, will combine with our prayers of thanksgiving.
George Washington proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving on October 3, 1789. During the Civil War, on the anniversary of Washington’s proclamation, Abraham Lincoln announced an annual day of thanksgiving to be held on the last Thursday in November. Amid the staggering destruction of the war, Lincoln called for the people to recount the many blessings of prosperity and peace with other nations. Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation calls these blessings “the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.” The national holiday has its most direct roots in that moment of deep national crisis. When the proclamation finally took effect in the fall of 1864, Atlanta had recently fallen to the Union Army and the war was finally moving toward its end.
In 1939, with the national economy still mired in the Great Depression, President Roosevelt and the Congress agreed to move the holiday from the last Thursday (which that year was to fall on November 30) to the fourth Thursday, giving retailers an extra week of holiday shopping. This is where it has remained ever since.
The early settlers paused to thank God for safe passage across a forbidding ocean and for a season of survival. During the nation’s overwhelming Civil War, a president urged the nation’s citizens to give thanks to a merciful God. A day of celebration was named amid the Great Depression – take note that we are not the first to come to our national Day of Thanksgiving while weathering deep and profound challenges.
As we stumble through this time of pandemic, economic uncertainty and societal upheaval, we too are encouraged to find a heart for thanksgiving, gratitude for life’s abundant blessings.
Remembering this history of immigration and cross-cultural connection and conflict, we may give thanks for the diversity of our nation’s peoples, including Native American communities. Giving thanks in this way, our gratitude can spur us to reach out and work together to create a more just and equitable world.
Likewise, remembering the holiday’s links to war, we may give thanks for times of peace: in our hearts, homes, neighborhoods, and between nations. Remembering the holiday’s links to creation, we may give thanks for that nourishing abundance. Here, too, our gratitude can serve as inspiration to redouble our efforts to be genuine peacemakers, to serve the hungry in our neighborhoods, and to care for God’s good Earth, all creatures great and small.
But there’s perhaps no better day than Thanksgiving to reflect on the astounding power of gratitude itself — and accordingly, to commit ourselves to cultivating gratitude more intentionally in the coming year.
If we think of “gratitude” primarily as a kind of duty to discharge (Now remember to write that thank-you note!), we’re missing the boat entirely, effectively reducing one of life’s wonders to mere good manners. On the contrary, gratitude is vital force in the world, a profoundly dignifying act that builds relationships, communities, and healthy human hearts.
However, it must be said that writing a thank you note is not a trivial thing. Rather, such an act is a profoundly wonderful gift of gratitude. We have a member of the Trinity staff who writes such notes, and they are ‘grace notes’ that enliven and bless the daily rhythm of life.
The science on this subject is overwhelming: in study after study, gratitude has been shown to lead to stronger relationships, better sleep, lower blood pressure, fewer trips to the doctor, fewer depressive symptoms, more patience, and more perseverance, among other benefits.
When it comes to gratitude, just “saying it out loud” to someone we like and respect, not to mention hearing what they’re thankful for, is a powerful step toward noticing — and more deeply experiencing — the blessings in our lives.
The power of these practices makes sense: one of our most precious treasures is our “time and attention,” and how we spend that treasure will directly determine the health of our hearts. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) We are encouraged to nourish the soil for growing joy and narratives of appreciation.
Gratitude can become the shape of our prayer. And prayer can become a kind of spoken gratitude journal, an intimate thank-you note or thankful conversation with God. Properly practiced, worship is an elaborated exercise for cultivating thanks and praise and, at its best, the result is a swirl of palpable amazement and joy. The Eucharist (from the Greek for “thanksgiving”), the Lord’s Supper, the Communion meal is at the center of that expression and, although we refrain from that gift at this time, we know its power. Gathered around a table of bounty, remembering an old story, giving thanks to God for safe passage, for life, for peace, and for the strength to continue the pilgrimage anew, we forge a life of gratitude.
In the end, then, we’re ‘pilgrims’ after all. Let this year’s Thanksgiving be not just a day of gratitude, but a springboard into a new life of gratitude, that most human and humanizing of gestures, the most graceful of all social graces.
Blessings to you, O people of Trinity. Happy Thanksgiving. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Robert Linstrom