“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”

By Eileen Lindner

Many cultures around the world celebrate a harvest festival. Here in the United States, Thanksgiving represents that feast to celebrate the fruitful harvest. Steeped in the piety of early Americans, the hallmark of the holiday was an outpouring of praise to God for the abundant harvest – for life itself. Over the decades, a humble gratitude was gradually replaced by overabundance, football, anticipation of Christmas shopping, and in the New York environs by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While all are cherished cultural observances, this year we might restore an older tradition of humble gratitude and sharing in the wake of a catastrophic global pandemic.

Eileen Lindner

Like many pastors, I have had my fair share of funerals in the past two years for those who suffered and died from COVID-19, and several other funerals that had to be conducted with tiny in-person gatherings with grieving family and friends joined only through electronic means. Moreover, we have all known the dislocations of school, work, income, fellowship opportunities and the diminution of beloved theater, concerts, sports and the like. The contagion brought with it, or made visible and deeper, a bitter rift among our nation’s people. Gratitude, in disquieting or even tumultuous times, can seem contradictory. Ironically, it is gratitude that may, in fact, lead us closer to the healing we seek.

In my family of origin, the traditional family Thanksgiving feast came only after the food baskets for the community’s needy were packed and delivered. A prerequisite of our own bountiful table was to first stock the community food pantry. The festivities often included an elderly neighbor or two since in our family’s lore, “no one should be alone for Thanksgiving!” We were by no means wealthy, but we had an overwhelming sense of abundance, of belovedness and of confidence in the future. In such a mindset the natural response is giving, sharing and concern for others.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This Thanksgiving finds our part of the world beginning to emerge from pandemic, rejoining in face-to-face worship in many places. Families that were socially distant from one another a year ago will gather once again around groaning tables. Parades, on hiatus last year, will again step off in seasonal pageantry. Things are not “normal,” but we are beginning to stabilize, adapt and renew our lives. In such a moment, the piety of earlier pilgrims commends itself. The restorative element of giving will surely be a part of any giving of thanks we undertake. #GivingTuesday on Nov. 30, your congregation’s stewardship campaign, the local food pantry, or the needy or lonely person or family down the street all provide an opportunity to express your own gratitude and sense of abundance because of God’s grace. So let us make haste to come, you thankful people, come.

The Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner is an Honorably Retired member of the Presbytery of Northeast New Jersey.

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