Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Will there be turkey? Discovering we are thanks giving people.

In a church I served in Colorado there were triplets, two girls and a boy, all with fine blond hair. They would listen attentively to children’s chapel and when returning to the sanctuary they would settle in with their crayons at the special child-size desk that can be found in many Episcopal churches. The one you find by turning around, putting your bum on the kneeler, and using the seat as a table. When they were nearly five one of them heard something new.

The priest prayed some of the same words that had been offered every time we gathered at the Eucharist. What he said in the prayer was the phrase ‘the great thanksgiving.’ One of the girls piped up in her everyday voice: Thanksgiving? Daddy, why is he talking about Thanksgiving? Is it thanksgiving? The brother and sister looked at her, so too did almost everyone in the sanctuary. The priest and the deacon paused for a chuckle, and then they continued with the sacramental prayers. The little girl’s tall father leaned over and did his best to quietly explain the connection and the difference. She seemed satisfied. However for the next 5 weeks or so, every time this family was in worship one of the triplets would respond in the exact same way. Thanksgiving? Mommy, or Daddy, why is he, or why is she, talking about thanksgiving? Will there be turkey?

Thanksgiving is a loaded dish of a holiday. Memories of school assemblies singing songs of cultural harmony and celebrating pluralism. Paper bag turkey costumes and the endless mix up of Puritans and Pilgrims. Visions of bountiful concord and weather-blown parades, hopes of perfect and scrumptious tables around which peaceful families might be gathered. Apparently, 85% of Americans partake in this holiday of thanksgiving. Which may make it the most widely celebrated moment we have. It is a holiday that strives to be more than our differences, a celebration of a daydream that in these divisive times seems far far away.

All our lessons for this Thanksgiving service push into our lives with the word of God and ask revealing questions. Have we lived in gratitude? Have we lived as if we know that all is God’s and all goes back to God? And the other way is jogging into a pit of despair? The fall decor and game times only sort of block the darker truths that also come to our tables. Truths about our un-generosity and un-forgiveness and numbing. The trappings only kind of cover the memories of the terror of religious dissenters who risked the wild unknown rather than stay at home. Only vaguely masks the history of the decimation of American Indians. What is it about the holidays that are supposed to be beautiful but somehow seem to bring out the broken in us?

As Christian practitioners, we are to be thanks giving people, week in and week out we celebrate communion, the Great Thanksgiving. That is what those triplets were noticing for the first time. The questions they asked should be our daily question. Are we really thanksgiving? As people who hear Jesus’ invitation to discipleship, we return to the table to hear the questions that Jesus asks us. How are we broken with friend and family and neighbor and stranger? What is Jesus’ measure of gratitude and how can we sow it, reap it, share it in God’s way?

Imagine a moment where a lid has been lifted. In the pot is a holy soup where anxieties and cruelty are lessened, where we breathe deeply and where we know that there is enough. Under this lid there is not boiling fear or frantic loneliness. The soup here is only gratitude. Smells like gratitude, tastes like gratitude.This is what we are called to sow, reap, share. Let us not only pass through thanksgiving. Let us settle with listening hearts around this table with this soup of gratitude all the time. Expand this practice into each day like lungs filled with good smells. Let us make our feast here with Jesus. With candor and simplicity and wholehearted love. For we are thanks giving people. Sow it, reap it, share it. Amen.

Lutheran Episcopal Thanksgiving Eucharist
November 22, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church
Walla Walla, Washington