By Thomas Lambrecht-
As we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends, we are a nation that has experienced much suffering and tragedy within the last few months. Many families will gather around a makeshift table in a home that is being rebuilt after flooding and hurricane damage. Others will be celebrating Thanksgiving in a temporary shelter because they lost their home in a fire. Still other families will huddle around a dining room table without a loved one who was killed in one of the tragic shootings experienced in our nation.
The United States of America is actively recovering from both natural and human-made disasters. We are also beset by political conflicts that threaten to tear our country apart. At the same time, our United Methodist Church is dealing with schism and theological divisions that jeopardize the future of the denomination.
We might be tempted to feel like not giving thanks, due to the dire circumstances that many among us are experiencing. But it is just at such times that we need to remember God’s mercy and blessing and acknowledge him as the Source of all good gifts.
It was President Abraham Lincoln who officially made Thanksgiving a national holiday – enacting what President George Washington first proposed as an official national celebratory “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” For Lincoln, the first Thanksgiving holiday was declared in 1863 after a major Union victory at Gettysburg in the midst of the bloody and bitter Civil War that would not end until two years later.
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies,” Lincoln said. “To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God … No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
President Lincoln continued: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
It is highly appropriate, as Lincoln did, to use this time of Thanksgiving to appeal to God for the healing of our nation, for comfort and healing for the sufferers of these disasters, for the restoration of those damaged by tragedy, and for the repentance and healing of our church. We pray for “the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union,” both in our country and in our church.
This is also an appropriate time to be ever mindful of the proud heritage and subsequent plight of our Native American brothers and sisters who too frequently end up becoming mere caricature figures in our elementary school Thanksgiving plays. While we may not always know the best way to rectify national mistakes of the past, the first step for peace for our future is acknowledging that we are all in need of the mercy and forgiveness of the Almighty.
Our staff at Good News is especially grateful for you, our supporters and constituents. You have kept us in prayer. You have encouraged us with your letters and emails. You have made our work possible by your financial gifts. As we head toward Giving Tuesday next week, we invite you to give a special Thanksgiving gift to Good News in honor of the blessings the Lord has poured out in your life. (To make a gift, you may click here or utilize the letter you recently received in the mail.) You make it possible for us to stand strong for the proclamation of the Father’s sacrificial love in Christ, his transformative mercy and grace toward all people, and his divine revelation through the words of Scripture, leading United Methodists to a faithful future. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Make sure you set aside time this weekend to remember the source of all blessing and to pray for the healing of our land. May you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News.