Text for Meditation: “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house” (Deuteronomy 26:11).
Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day and I remember a travel agent friend of mine who remarked that she and her family were going to New York City for Thanksgiving. I ventured, “Are you going to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade?” And she responded, almost matter-of-factly, “Yes. It is one of the best things a person can do for Thanksgiving.” She made me think: “What do modern people think about when they hear the word ‘Thanksgiving’?”
What comes to my mind are a range of images that include a cornucopia, turkeys, families gathered around the television watching football, and a group of pilgrims thanking God that their Native American friends were generous enough with food to save their lives in the New World. Whether or not these are everyone’s images of thanksgiving, I cannot say, but I know they are mine.
If we modern people had a little more sense of history, then we would recognize that thanksgiving has been around a very lengthy time. As far back as Moses, the word “thanksgiving” has been part of Israel’s worship life. According to the New Revised Standard Translation (NRSV) of the Bible, thanksgiving first makes its appearance in the book of Leviticus. There in Leviticus we find the Lord telling Moses, “If you offer it for thanksgiving, you shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil” (7:12).
For the Hebrew people, thanksgiving was part of the ritual system in which people worshipped the Lord their God. Sometimes we Americans turn out to be shortsighted. We believe that thanksgiving came about because our first president George Washington made a proclamation about thanksgiving for the newly founded nation. Nevertheless, from the beginning God created God’s community to be those who are a thankful people. Indeed every Sabbath day is a day of thanksgiving.