Psalm 100  -  All The More Reason To Give Thanks

It is interesting to note that it wasn’t until we were at war, the Civil War to be exact, that our Thanksgiving holiday was officially recognized by Congress. It had started in the small Plymouth Colony in 1621 when the English Pilgrims feasted with members of the Wampanoag (Wam·pa·no·ag) Indians who brought gifts of food as a gesture of goodwill. The custom grew in various colonies as a means of celebrating the harvest. In 1777, over 100 years later, the continental congress proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving after the American Revolution victory at the Battle of Saratoga. But it was twelve years later that George Washington proclaimed another national day of thanksgiving in honor of the ratification of the Constitution and requested that the congress finally make it an annual event. They declined and it would be another 100 years and the end of a bloody civil war before President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November Thanksgiving. The year was 1865. It might surprise you to learn that it took still another 40 years, the early 1900’s, before the tradition really caught on. For you see Lincoln’s official Thanksgiving was sanctioned in order to bolster the Union's morale. Many Southerners saw the new holiday as an attempt to impose Northern customs on their conquered land.

Thanksgiving today is a mild-mannered holiday full of football, hot apple pie, and family reunions. But that’s not a realistic historical picture of Thanksgiving. It is more often born of adversity and difficult times. So many of the greatest expressions of thanksgiving have occurred under circumstances so debilitating one wonders why people give thanks. It would seem the more reasonable response would be bitterness and ingratitude.

Paul writing from a prison cell and probably knowing that he would soon die by the guillotine writes to the Philippians, “I give thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor imprisoned in 1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, was executed two years later. On the day that the sentence was carried out he conducted a service for the other prisoners. One of those prisoners, an English officer who survived, wrote these words:

Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive... He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near... On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us." That had only one meaning for all prisoners--the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me aside: "This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life." The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.

Out of great suffering have come the greatest expressions of gratitude. And so I suggest to you this morning that in the wake of the terrorist attacks, the afghan war, the anthrax attacks, the economic turmoil, the market crash, and the flight 587 crash we have all the more reason to celebrate Thanksgiving…

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