I recently heard someone remark that Thanksgiving is no longer about giving thanks and that it is certainly no longer about God. Thanksgiving, the person declared, is about family, food, and football. The reason for this supposed change is that we have more calls for grievance than for gratitude. I’ve been pondering whether Thanksgiving has really stopped being about giving thanks to God and whether we do indeed have more cause for grievance than for gratitude.
Thanksgiving has certainly changed. Thirty years ago, the congregation where I served as pastor had a 10:00 am Thanksgiving Day service and the congregation came. Now, many communities have interfaith services sometime during Thanksgiving week and the crowd is small. Yet, is the congregation’s thankfulness to God less? In a way, their thanksgiving is remarkable because it is one occasion when a community’s people of faith can come together to worship and praise God. Some point out that our way of thanking God has changed from worship to service. We collect and distribute Thanksgiving baskets to our neighbors. Many families and congregants take time on Thanksgiving Day to volunteer and help serve a turkey dinner for those in need of a meal or somewhere to go.
As for grievance or gratitude, that depends on our perspective. When was the last time we took a break from exercising our complaints in order to count our blessings? When was the last time we were intentionally grateful for the things we generally take for granted? Asking this question caused me to pause and recognize that I do not do this enough. How about you? When I do, I realize that my family and having food on the table and a roof over my head are things that I take for granted for which I am genuinely grateful. So perhaps making them the centerpiece, not the exclusive focus, of Thanksgiving Day is an appropriate way of giving thanks to God. As for football, it will be on in our house because the Detroit Lions are playing the Buffalo Bills and Cathy is from Upstate New York. Perhaps it is not what we do on Thanksgiving but how we do it, with gratitude rather than grievance.
If you need help feeling grateful or if you find no reason for gratitude, think on God’s gift of Jesus to you and to those you love most. I find that, when I do, I end up doing what Saint Paul directs: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7).
The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, Ph.D., Bishop