Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us, and to God we belong; we are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture. Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and courts with praise. Give thanks to God, bless God’s name. For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.
“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thanksgiving was a special holiday for the family of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson—so much so that they celebrated for two consecutive days. They feasted at Uncle Samuel Ripley’s home on Thanksgiving Day. Then, on the following day, they would “keep festival” with extended family and friends at their home in Concord. It was one of Emerson’s favorite occasions. Indeed, he called the day “Good Friday.” According to family recollections, it was a fun-filled day of “family gossip,” feasting, and games.
Thanksgiving is central to the Christian life. Our Israelite ancestors made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, entering “God’s gates with thanksgiving and courts with praise.” At Passover, they gave thanks for God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. At Pentecost, they rejoiced in the harvest of wheat and God’s generous providence. When New England Puritans celebrated their first American thanksgiving, their feast shared sentiments of Pentecost and Passover. They were grateful for their harvest and the help of indigenous neighbors; and they gave thanks for a new home, free from persecution for their Protestant beliefs.
The tradition of gratitude for God’s deliverance and providence continues in our annual Thanksgiving Day celebrations. Despite the hardship of pandemic and the losses that have touched our friends and families, the Lord has seen us through. Emerging from the COVID cloud has felt a bit like deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Despite the isolation and the anxiety of the past twenty months, we have much to be grateful for, from life and love to bird song and bee hum.
According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Returning to God with gratitude and acknowledging God’s goodness to us deepens our spiritual life, brings hope, and builds trust that God will continue to work in ways that help and bless.
So, pass the mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving is good for us—in body, mind, and spirit. You may not follow Emerson and his family in celebrating extravagantly for two days; yet, wherever you are this Thanksgiving Day, may it be a time of goodness and gratitude.
“O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!”—William Shakespeare
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”—Maya Angelou