“It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth – announced in the holy Scriptures and proven by all history – that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord. We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied, and enriched, and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
So reads the proclamation for the national celebration of the day of Thanksgiving issued by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. By the standards of today, a shocking statement to be issued by a civil servant. They are certainly powerful words – words pregnant with meaning for today. But the words, while eloquent, carry a message not strikingly new to the human sensibility. No, Lincoln’s words carry a message which echoes from the very depths of our human hearts and from the earliest days of the Judaic religion, a religion from which the Christian faith grew.
Moses told the people: “When you have eaten your fill, you must bless the Lord, your God, for the good country he has given you. Be careful not to forget the Lord your God.” Our National Day of Thanksgiving, instituted not by religious leaders but by a governmental leader – this National Day of Thanksgiving indeed finds its roots in the depths of our spiritual lives.
In moments of reflection, in times of helplessness, in the cries of pain, and in the tears of joy, we intuitively recognize that it is Divine Love which envelopes and permeates our days and our breaths. This day of Thanksgiving simply formalizes a recognition which fills our hearts and minds countless times throughout the year.
The abundance of food and company which so often marks our celebration today finds a parallel in this Gospel story, a story which prefigures the last supper, a story which prefigures our Eucharistic celebration even two thousand years later.
From modest and ordinary means, five loaves and two fish, our Lord feeds five thousand who hungered for nourishment that only he could provide.
From the same kitchens where modest and ordinary meals are prepared throughout the year, an abundant feast arrives, from which there will surely be leftovers, perhaps even to fill twelve baskets.
From modest and ordinary bread and wine, we are fed at this altar through a promise and direction given to us by our Jesus on the night before he gave his life for us. The meal we celebrate at this altar, a meal celebrated every day, a meal celebrated every Sunday~ is a Eucharistic meal. And this word, “Eucharistic” has its origins in the Greek word “eucharistica”, a Greek word which simply means thanksgiving.
Today, we celebrate a National Day of Thanksgiving, thanking God for all the many gifts we receive throughout the year. But every day we celebrate thanksgiving as well, a thanksgiving for the supreme gift of Jesus Christ present among us, feeding us just as he fed the five thousand who hungered for his food and strength.
And this eucharistic thanksgiving not only indicates that we have not forgotten God but it assures us that God has not forgotten us. Christ’s promise to be with us always and everywhere is fulfilled perhaps most visibly as this bread and wine become his body and blood.
It does seem fit and proper then, that today God be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice.
Gathered as sisters and brothers in Christ, as daughters and sons of God, we join our hearts and our voices today, and we give thanks.
Turkey photo courtesy of Belvédère