Jesus always enjoyed a good meal; we read it again and again in the Gospel. Sometimes, in Religion, there’s a tendency to portray Jesus as an austere holy man opposed to the simple pleasures of everyday life. Some people who profess Him go so far as to equate faith with unrelenting asceticism and self-denial. The lack of balance, puts at risk the ‘love’ found in community and friendship that is at the heart of the Gospel.
When the Puritan Pilgrims, who weren’t exactly known for enjoying themselves or throwing themselves into the pleasures of everyday life, declared the first Thanksgiving in 1621 they didn’t call for a celebration or a feast. Instead, they fasted. They observed a day of prayer without food. It was their way of giving thanks to God for the blessings they received in spite of the incredible hardships they endured. Thanksgiving, for them, was to focus on God and their dependence on His abiding love and presence. Ric Burns has a wonderful docudrama about the Pilgrims, taken from the diary of William Bradford, about the struggle of these first pioneers in Massachusetts. It will no doubt air on PBS during the holiday, try to watch ‘The Pilgrims’ if you can for a deeper appreciation of this holiday.
Jesus, on the other hand, would begrudge no one a fine Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends and all the trimmings. Good food, children and their din, old-timers wondering where the years went, the background noise of parades and football; people toiling in the kitchen, willingly, muttering and wiping away the steam. Everyone can draw his or her own image of Thanksgiving from memories past, or imagined.
Now we have the question of giving ‘thanks’, that’s what the day is about after all, that’s how it started. Our ‘thanks’ is first of all a benediction on the past year. But our ‘thanks’ is invariably the start of something new. If we listen, giving thanks has an action attached. It requires us to do something.
Why spoil a good Thanksgiving dinner, one that Jesus would enjoy, with images of hungry, hollow-eyed children, refugees, the homeless and the poor? Because our Christian understanding of things says that we are all part of one human family, that borders are not divisions between those of us who have and those who need.
We don’t have to spoil the meal, says Jesus, who enjoyed his own share of feasts and celebrating. It is enough to say enjoy the meal to the full, provided that, filled and refreshed, we do what is required. Jesus operated from compassion and from a life whose everyday activities included the poor and the needy. And so must we.
What we give thanks for at Thanksgiving is our capacity to love, our opportunity to love. And, we give thanks, for the opportunity to act out of the love we share. Let us celebrate Thanksgiving thankfully and act as Jesus would have us.