A Theology of Thanksgiving

by Chris TerryNelson

This is the fourth and final talk in a series on A Theology of the Holidays.

1Cor. 11:23   For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,  24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (NRSV)

This morning we come to our final holiday – Thanksgiving.  To be sure, a time of turkey, gravy, canned cranberry sauce (because, no matter how wonderful your aunt’s recipe might be, it doesn’t compare with the glorious stuff that comes out of the can).  A time to give thanks to God.  Thanks for what, though?

It is a time to look back upon the truth of our humanity – a story that is full of kindness, love, gentleness, giving, friends, relatives, fun, joy.  And we usually go around the dinner table and take note of these good things.  But imagine that we also, in a strange way, look back at all the things we talked about: Christmas – being born a baby, vulnerable, tiny, fragile.  And, if there’s one thing you realize you cannot choose in life, it’s your parents!  We should be thankful that our parents and caretakers actually took care of us, even though they did it in imperfect ways at times.  By being thankful for the way we came into the world, we let go of the need to wish we had been someone else or something else.  Halloween – being born into a world of suffering, violence, and death.  Yes, in a strange way, we also come to be thankful for this world, in all its imperfection.  By being thankful for this world, right here, right now, that we live in, we cease wishing that we had been born into some different world, with better people.  The limitations of death and suffering help us not to take our bodies for granted, to accept them, and yet to feel free to cry and to mourn the losses that hit us in life.  Finally, with Good Friday and Easter, we give thanks for the death of our false selves, of the old life, the death of our superhero identities and our masks that we hide behind.  When we experience these things being crucified, it feels like death to us.  How could we possibly live without these things?  And yet, we find on the other side of this death that there is life.

This morning, the sacrament that marks thanksgiving for the life that we live in these bodies is communion.  It is the place where we choose this body that we’ve been given, and we choose this collective body, with each of us here, belonging.  I do not wish to replace you with someone else.  I do not desire to fix you.  I accept you as the person that you are, and you accept me as the person that I am.  We accept all of the problems that we bring with us, because we all have troubles, and this is okay.  You may think you left all of your problems behind at home, and that’s why you had such a wonderful time this weekend.  But no, we all brought our problems with us.  Perhaps, during the last few days, we learned to hold our problems differently, carry them differently, see them differently.  Our problems are there, but they do not define us.  Our problems, our drama, our battles, our striving to be better, to get attention, these things followed us here.  But they are not our true selves.

Let us now enter into new life together one last time while we are together here, though this is just the beginning for some of us.