Thursday, November 25, 2010 is the traditional American Thanksgiving Day observance this year. This continues in the long tradition of harvest festivals, both pagan and Jewish. Among the Jews, there three primary feasts were all harvest feasts of one sort or another: Passover associated with the first fruits, Pentecost with the harvest, and Tabernacles with the wine harvest. The early Church was slow to develop such traditions, perhaps in reaction to the pagan harvest festivals that surrounded it. Eventually, in medieval England we find Lammas Day on August 1st, that is “loaf-mass” because it centered around a loaf made from the newly harvested wheat crop.
The first American Thanksgiving was held by the Pilgrims in 1621. It is clear that they had much to be thankful to God for having provided for them in their new life in the wilderness. Just the simple necessities of food and shelter were truly amazing gifts in those circumstances. Of course the land and the surrounding seas were very rich, but they were starting with absolutely nothing in terms of the infrastructure of everyday life. No houses, no roads, no water system, with the need to build everything from scratch. It was God Himself who watched over them and protected them as they worked and enabled their efforts to prosper. Without His protecting hand, they would have simply been swallowed up in the countless dangers that they faced every day.
Today, we live in a much different time and circumstance. We enjoy the fruits of the labors of our forefathers and the blessings that they received at the hands of God. They were able to establish a nation of free men on this continent that has become the envy of people the world over. We have been given the most prosperous nation on the face of the earth, even though some of that prosperity is purchased at the price of very foolish national spending. We have also seen our nation steadily turning away from God, the God that has been the very source of our national prosperity. It is particularly appropriate, therefore, that we as Americans consider the Gospel lesson that the Church has appointed for our reflection on this day of Thanksgiving.
Matthew 6:25-34 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
The Gospel lesson is a very blunt reminder that all that we have comes to us from God our Heavenly Father. We deceive ourselves if we think that we are in control, that if we work harder we can make things happen the way we want them to happen. When we lose sight of God, and think that man, either ourselves or some other man, is in control, we have missed the point altogether. The destiny of the universe is in God’s hands, which is a far better, safer place to have it than in the hands of any man.
In our great concern for the things of this world, too many forget the other part that says, But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. The things of this world are temporal, that is, temporary, and will pass away with this world. The Kingdom of God is eternal, that is, everlasting, and will not pass away, so that is where we want to be sure that our focus is, on the things eternal. If that is where our gaze if fixed, we can deal with the transient matters of this life in simple gratitude to God for all that we have at His hand.