Nearly every culture has a day of thanksgiving. It may be a day closely connected to the autumn harvest; it may be a religious holiday, or a day to gratefully honor the dead, or namesakes. Still, it is nearly universal, regardless of whether or not it involves turkey. Gratitude is not only important to human happiness and contentment but directly speaks to who we are as people. We crave connection and seek out ways to express our appreciation for it.
Americans have celebrated Thanksgiving as a national holiday since the middle days of the Civil War, but the mythology, of course, dates further back to the early colonial period. Many of us, however, refrain from arguing over pilgrims and the Wampanoag peoples, and instead, would rather bicker about whether marshmallows belong on top of sweet potatoes, or if pumpkin pie beats pecan.
Our true identity, however, is not wrapped up in our American heritage, but as people belonging to Jesus Christ. In this way, we celebrate Thanksgiving, knowing our homes, jobs, family, our time, our spiritual blessings are all because of him. His bounty of grace elicits our deepest, truest gratitude. And the image he provides us is not just a nebulous one of us singing with the angels. Scripture provides us with a heartier, more robust image, one that even the Vikings of Valhalla could get behind.
When God welcomes his people, he does it with food and sumptuousness and good conversation and a party. He opens his arms to the wayward and lost and says, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate.” (Luke 15:23) In John’s apocalyptic vision of what awaits us as God’s people, and what already is, he portrays it as a feast.
“Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19:9) What deliciousness awaits us! And what generosity we already know! For the Lord invites us weekly to his feast, out of the bounty of his grace, through the commemorative and forward-looking Eucharist (another word for Thanksgiving). He is the one who promises a great feast to come.
The feast prepared for the prodigal son resonates with us, as does Jesus cooking fish on the shore for his disciples, and reclining at mealtime with the tax collectors and Pharisees and disciples. It resonates because it features some of the most enjoyable parts of life on this earth: eating in company. We recognize this and make use of it in our literature. The best parts of story have to do with feasting. James Herriot without descriptions of pickled onions and large roast beef sandwiches would not have the charm. How would Laura Ingalls Wilder have conveyed the comforts and pleasures of a boy’s life without “roast beef and brown gravy, and mashed potatoes and creamed carrots and boiled turnips, and countless slices of buttered bread with crab-apple jelly” in Farmer Boy? And really, how indeed would Mr. and Mrs. Beaver have shown hospitality and goodness without lumps of butter for the potatoes and a “gloriously sticky marmalade roll, steaming hot” in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?
Not only is feasting indicative of bounty and generosity, but feasting is simply being at the table where Christ sits as gracious host. It is communion, inclusion, acceptance, togetherness, and belonging. Don’t we all want to belong? It is Jesus who bring us to the table, and we linger basking in the communion, full of thanksgiving. And here the conversation is encouraging and healing and is what keeps us at the table.
“On this mountain the Lord
Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine -
the best of meats and the finest of
And we will all offer up our thanksgiving.