Tomorrow is not a church holiday. It’s a national one. In Canada, they celebrated over a month ago. Other nations celebrate at other times – or not at all. A day of national thanksgiving. Not commanded in Scripture, not anything to do with the life of Christ like Christmas or Epiphany, or Easter, or Ascension Day. The reading from the Gospel is also the reading for the 14th Sunday after Trinity. It doesn’t even get it’s own distinct reading. It gets the one and only time that someone gave thanks to Jesus. The best we’ve got. Lot’s of Epistle readings to choose from, lots of Old Testament Readings. Lots of Psalms. One Gospel reading. And, since it isn’t a church holiday anyway, we use it.
But why bother to meet at all? We are not beholden to the President and Congress for the conduct of our services. In many nations, and at many times in her history the church meets even against the express command of the authorities. So what makes this different? Because, the church is a church at prayer. We call upon God in every trouble, pray praise and give thanks. Time of tragedy or national calamity, the church gathers for prayer. Time of famine? We gather for prayer. Time of celebration? Gather to praise. Time of Thanksgiving? We gather to give thanks. The church will gather for prayer at the drop of a hat. Give us a day off, and a request to pray, and that’s what we do. It’s who we are. The church is the church at prayer. Those who follow the example of our Lord Jesus stop to pray, to call upon our heavenly Father. And today, when our nation stops to give thanks, we come together to give thanks as well.
And when we give thanks, we must give thanks to someone. Thanks is always directed outward. You can not thank yourself. It is an expression of gratitude given to another. Those who have deluded themselves into believing that God does not exist have really nothing to thank tomorrow but the random collection of molecules that happened to form the earth. An emptier holiday there can not be. For us, we have the chance to stop and say “thank you” to God for all he has blessed us with this past year. Foremost among those things is the Word of God brought to us throughout the year. Year 104 of the Gospel being proclaimed purely in Platte County. Thanks be to God for that! May he preserve and keep us in His holy Word for the coming year.
But we also praise and give thanks to God for all he has done this last year in preserving us in this world. That’s what Thanksgiving was originally for, and what it remember this year as well. God has given us body and soul, eyes ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses and still preserves them. Also clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, land animals and that I have. He daily and richly provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger, guards and protects me from all evil. And all this purely out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. That is why we thank and praise serve and obey him. It is certainly why we come together this day. Thanksgiving was placed at the time of the harvest. All is safely gathered in. We have made it through another year, we have put away the grain for the winter, and now we give thanks for that. Of course, today we don’t rely quite so directly on the growing. A bad year of farming or ranching is nothing to ignore. But it isn’t that we are growing the one and only food that will be available for the family for the next 12 months. The grocery store brings fresh food all year long. Exotic fruits and vegetables are offered fresh anytime we want them. Things are far easier than they were in times past. Wealth more abundant. Life – and meal time – less tenuous. And yet, that is only by the grace of God. He could withdraw the rains, hold back his hand the earth would produce no fruit. Famine could be brought about by civil unrest, or financial panic, or… well, any one of a thousand things really. If God withdraws his providing hand, there just isn’t. He gives food each day. He gives the rain year after year. He provides for all our needs of body and soul. And, for at least one day, we stop and give thanks for that. For the gift of family, friends, the church, our pantry full of food, our car to bring us here, the list could go on forever, and the explanation to the First Article that was recited a bit earlier pretty much covers things. Thanks be to God, who has preserved us another year – not only in this world, but preserved us in the faith, fed and nourished us with the Word of God, with the body and blood of Jesus, so that we would be kept steadfast in the faith. Thanks be to God, who has given us all good things, who has promised to continue giving us all good things, and who will one day call us out of this veil of tears, and take us to be with himself in heaven. The final harvest, when all will be gathered into His barns. Thanks be to God.