For modern day Americans Thanksgiving conjures up images of turkey and cranberry sauce, parades and football. Four hundred years ago a Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans to give thanks to God for the harvest of 1621. In 1863 during a period of national war, pitting brother against brother and father against son, President Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November a national day of thanksgiving. To me, Thanksgiving, has even older, more ancient roots and a special religious significance.
The Israelites celebrated Thanksgiving in a combination of two feasts, Passover and Unleavened bread, when the first grain began to be harvested. The Israelites not only thanked God for food, but even more, for freedom from slavery and bondage. In the Old Testament God acted through Moses to free His people from Pharaoh. In the New Testament God would liberate His people from slavery to Satan and sin. This liberation, though, would be more costly; it would cost God the life of His only Son, Jesus. God so loved the world He would give His only Son, for salvation for the world.
At the Last Supper, on the night before he died, Jesus would celebrate the memorial of the Old Testament Passover, deepening its meaning, making it a new and everlasting covenant. ”This is my body…This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many….do this in memory of me.” Jesus held nothing back; He gave us Himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist (Greek eucharistia, thanksgiving).At Mass we are called to participate in the Eucharist, offering our “thanksgiving” or gratitude for Christ’s self-less gift of His life to us. Every time the priest says “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” And we respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, and for our good and the good all of his Church” we, the Church Militant are to join with the Church Triumphant in offering ourselves to God on the altar. It is a time to quietly thank God presenting to Him all our blessings and worries; confident that He will guide us through all our life and never leave us.
As I begin my preparation for our Thanksgiving Feast, I am thankful for all that God has given me, and also truly grateful for His gift of the Eucharist. Happy (eucharistia) Thanksgiving to One and All.