As church leaders there are a few holidays that must be observed faithfully and treated with the utmost respect they deserve. There is Christmas, the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then there is Easter, the day we recognize Jesus’ resurrection three days after being crucified. These are momentous Christian HOLY-days that still highlight our church calendars even though our commercial culture has tried to defile and re purpose them with new icons like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. A third Christian holiday that has been totally hijacked by high finance is Thanksgiving, the holiday commemorating Christian Pilgrims surviving a harsh winter and sharing the bounty of a bumper harvest with their native neighbors. But I dare say that the church has practically given up this uniquely Christian occasion commemorating faith and fellowship.
Thanksgiving has always been a second-tier holiday in a for profit marketplace with very little commercial appeal other than being a boon to the turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie market. One meal, as sumptuous as it may be, isn’t quite enough to make a holiday a commercial success, so retailers usually skip over the promotion of Thanksgiving. Store’s shelves that were previously filled with Halloween candy, costumes and spooky decorations until October 31st are then decking their halls with boughs of holly and playing Christmas music on November 1st. An exception to this phenomenon being the New York City department store Macy’s who have capitalized on Thanksgiving by hosting an annual nationally televised parade. But even though the parade route down 34th street may begin with a turkey themed float; it always concludes with the Ho Ho Ho of Santa Claus announcing the Christmas shopping season has begun.
I have anointed myself with the title of “The Thanksgiving Defender” with the expressed singular purpose of reclaiming Thanksgiving as National Holy-day. I am committed to reminding folks and especially church leaders of our nation’s Christian heritage and how we can honor our past by reclaiming a thanksgiving attitude. This idea of a Thanksgiving feast is one that todays church can embrace to celebrate God’s bounty and the fellowship within God’s people.
A church I planted in Hays Kansas met initially in a storefront that was only available on Thursday nights. I remember advertising in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. I invited people to after their turkey has been eaten, after their football games had been watched and after their naps had been taken to come and celebrate, not only what they are thankful for but to whom they are thankful to. That Thursday night was by far the best attended worship service we had to date.
Even after we began worshipping on Sundays, we would still regularly meet on Thanksgiving night, after the turkey, naps and football games to give thanks. Giving thanks is part of God’s will for our lives not only on the last Thursday of November but always. As a part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) we would serve communion at every worship service.
One of the words for communion in the Greek is the word euraristo from which we get the word Eucharist, another term for the Lord’s Supper. That word means thanksgiving. As we take the Lord’s Supper we are to receive it with thanks, thanking God for all that He’s done in our lives. At Thanksgiving services I would always serve communion and I would preach often about God’s will for us is to rejoice, pray and give thanks in everything as laid out by the Apoatle Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians,
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Notice that prayer is to be sandwiched between rejoicing and thanksgiving. Now I will admit that sometimes when I go to prayer, I go with an attitude other than rejoicing and I hope when I finish, I can end in thanksgiving. As we get ready for our Thanksgiving in our churches remember how, the Apostle Paul tells us how we should we prepare to give thanks.
First, we are to rejoice. The attitude of a heart of prayer is an attitude that is founded in the joy that comes from the knowledge that we are welcomed into His presence. Deep within each of us who know and have been partakers of the grace of God, is the satisfying joy that He has accepted us in Christ.
In many of our church services rejoicing is about the last thing we do. Our music in church should reflect this joy throughout the year but especially at Thanksgiving. Hymns like “Rejoice ye Pure in Heart, Praise to the Lord the Almighty and For the Beauty of the Earth are wonderful upbeat hymns that express our joy. And where is it written that you can only sing “Joy to the World’” at Christmas? Like the Macy’s parade, during our services we would often end Thanksgiving with a sneak peek, look forward in anticipation of Christmas.
The next short verse says we are to continually pray. After we have prepared by opening the treasure of joy in our hearts, next comes “pray without ceasing.” The picture here is a constant conversation. The Holy Spirit of God living within you to seek wisdom and direction from. Thanksgiving time is a time for us to express to God our heartfelt thanks for what God has done and to ask for what we need. I believe that God wants to provide for your every need out of his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Ask God to put on your heart what are some of the special needs in your congregation and in your community and then expect God to answer your prayers in a way that you may mobilize your people to meet those needs.
That brings us to the final part that says we are to fulfill God’s will by giving thanks in all circumstances. Our thanksgiving is independent of our situation. Around the Thanksgiving dinner table families often will share what they are thankful for. Common responses I’ve heard are family, friends, special occasions that have happened to us or even possessions we have acquired. But the thanksgiving that flows from the heart of a believer is not dependent on things or people, instead it is totally reliant on the living relationship we have with God through Christ in prayer. We express our thanks to God by acknowledging all that God has done for us. What we ae thankful for should never come before whom we are thankful to. And then in responses we practice our thanks by giving generously to those around us. Thanks, and Giving must go together!
For over 20 years on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the church I pastored collected non-perishable food items in front of all the local grocery stores. Then on Wednesday night we would bag them and distribute them to hundreds of people on Thanksgiving Day.
Our church was instrumental in organizing a Thanksgiving Day feast in our city who with the help of sponsors and volunteers provided meals for hundreds of people who could not afford or did not have a family to share a Thanksgiving meal with.
Today I challenge you to start thinking about Thanksgiving as a part of the Holy Trinity of holidays; Christmas, Easter and then Thanksgiving. Tis the season to remember and to practice anew the reason for the Pilgrims Christian charity and fellowship. It was all about God’s grace, compassion and abiding care. So as I conclude by mashing up together the lyrics of some classic Thanksgiving hymns I invite you to, …Come ye thankful people come…with heart and hands and voices….. as we gather together to ask the Lords blessing… to give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy one, give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ his son.
For more details regarding how to adopt a Thanks-Living attitude in your church contact Kyle Ermoian at Kyle@effectivechurch.com.