Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 246)

You all know stories and lore about the first Thanksgiving, how hungry and grateful European Immigrant Pilgrims got together with their Native American Patuxet neighbors to share in a three day feast, celebrating good harvest and a measure of peace between these peoples. I say stories and lore because the firsthand accounts of that feast are fairly thin and history has layered its own meanings onto that day. You can see this layering in artistic representations of that day from later years, such as this one:

thanksgiving-11.23-heather.jpg

The First Thanksgiving 1621, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1899) part of Pageant of a Nation series of paintings. Image in public domain.

While the oyster shells and the shore line are authentic to 1621, that’s about it in this painting from 1899. The Native Americans here are dressed like Plains peoples, not the Patuxet people, and at least one Pilgrim looks more like a cowboy to me. There are also power dynamics at play, with the Pilgrims being the gracious sharers of their bounty, rather than the other way around. You might need a few grains of salt not just for your slice of turkey on Thanksgiving…

President Abraham Lincoln called for a national day of Thanksgiving as a federal holiday in 1863. It was to be a day of unifying a divided land, of calling the country back to its roots, and of remembering our place in the greater world. President Lincoln wrote a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

It is in that spirit of seeking unity that is harmony (not necessarily unanimity) that I encourage you to go to your Thanksgiving dinner with an open heart and open ears. Whether you are gathering with family and friends, running a turkey trot with neighbors and strangers, spending the day in service to others, or virtually gathering with family and friends via phone and web-video, enter into conversation with an open heart to hear the hopes, pains, and fears of others. Listen to each other not to respond most quickly, but to hear most deeply. And in your prayer on that day, whether a simple grace over the meal or a longer time spent in prayer and thanksgiving to God, remember that we are all children of God, recipients of God’s grace, and called in our Baptismal Covenant to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.”

thanksgiving-11.23-heather-2.jpg

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell, 1942; Thanksgiving Dinner, David Bates, 1982