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Thanksgiving.

2009 November 26
by Gordon Reid

Since I’ve been living in America, one of the customs I’ve enjoyed most is Thanksgiving. I know it began as a simple prayer of gratitude to the Almighty from the first settlers, after incredibly dangerous voyages and initial crop failures. They risked all for freedom of worship, and I am ashamed that it was my Church that was denying them that freedom. However, I am not ashamed that my Church has now learned to be tolerant of a wide variety of beliefs and ways of expressing these beliefs.

The British equivalent of Thanksgiving is, of course, the Harvest Festival, when many parish churches are fuller than at Christmas or Easter. This is especially true of little country churches, which are decorated within an inch of their lives that day. Sheaves of corn stand by the altar, sheaves that have had to be specially cut by the hand of a friendly farmer, since all the rest of the corn is now cut by monster combine harvesters. The air is sweet with the scent of apples, plums, marrows, all the autumnal fruits and flowers. I well remember having to preach most delicately in a pulpit which was none too steady to begin with, and had a few dozen apples balanced precariously along its edge. One Bible thump and I’d have been lost, but luckily I’m not given to much Bible thumping!

Giving thanks like this for the success of harvest is one of the most basic human instincts. So “Give us this day our daily bread” is not (as someone has said) an odd little prayer to be tucked in by Jesus between two much mightier and weightier subjects: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and “Forgive us our trespasses”. One prayer reaches to the glories of heaven, the other to the depths of sin and hell; yet in between, Jesus puts “Give us this day our daily bread”.

And he does this, because it is not a tiny little prayer. Behind our daily bread are God’s millions of years of preparation of the earth while the rocks ground down into hospitable soil, and then the hours and days and weeks of toil by sower, reaper, baker, merchant, before the little loaf arrives on our table. As Dr George Morrison says in a sermon called “Our Daily Bread”:
“There are things you ask for which seem little things. They are peculiar and personal and private. They are not plainly vast like some petitions, as when we pray for the conversion of the world. Yet could you follow out that prayer of yours, you might find it calling for the power of heaven as mightily as the conversion of the nations……You are lonely, and you pray to God that he would send a friend into your life. And then some day to you there comes that friend, perhaps in the most casual of meetings. Yet who shall tell the countless prearrangements, and the nice adjustment of a million orderings, before there was that footfall on the threshold which has made all the difference in the world to you?”

We have so much to be thankful for, especially the love of God and human love. It is the highest form of prayer – which is why our most precious spiritual possession is called “The Eucharist”, which is just Greek for “The Thanksgiving”. Tomorrow when I stand at the altar offering that Thanksgiving, as I do every day, I will be thanking God for the first harvest to the Pilgrim Fathers, but also for much, much more.

No wonder the last words of the (Tridentine) Mass are “Deo gratias”!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. November 26, 2009

    Thanks you for this splendid ferverino!

  2. December 3, 2009

    Our dearly beloved local radio pyschologist, Dr. Gottlieb, echoes many colleagues when he notes that a habit of gratitude, more than any other mental trait, conduces to longevity. Apparently this association is becoming established as a scientific fact.

    It should be no surprise, then, that the church, one of the oldest institutions in the world, if not the oldest, in continuous existence, has always maintained a rite of gratitude at the center of her life.

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