Today I have chosen to break from the lectionary. The reason is not only because it is “Thanksgiving Sunday,” an unofficial designation we in America give to the Sunday before Thanksgiving, although that is certainly part of it. The main reason, however, is that due to the pandemic we at Florence Congregational have had to close our doors until such a time when we feel confident that we can reasonably ensure your health and safety.
Of course, this is nothing new for us in 2020. We faced initial lockdowns with combinations of fear and courage and anxiety and determination back in March. Every American reacted in slightly different ways. There is—of course—no correct way to deal with change on an international level or in your daily life in such a short amount of time. Whether you stuck your head in the sand and hoped for better days to come, or you watched the news or the stock markets or social media with a fervor as never before, or you took to the streets when you saw that society needed to be improved and voices from all walks of life needed to be heard, or intense hopelessness crippled you and the four walls of your home no longer felt safe… we as a community attempted to pull through for hope of a better tomorrow.
It seemed as if our waiting had been rewarded when we reopened the doors to our beloved building on 130 Pine Street less than a short month ago. Then just as quickly, it all seemed to change.
It would be easy to blame God. It would be easy to lose faith and to throw in the towel.
But if I may borrow a common expression: Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
We are still here. We are still a faith community. We are still friends and neighbors. Our church stands firmly beneath the pine trees as a symbol to our resilience.
Let us all remember that it is Thanksgiving—or a time for giving thanks. Let us not fall into anger or desperation or hopelessness. Let us not yell at the heavens and feel our faithlessness has been vindicated when God doesn’t yell back in human words. Let us not curl up in our living rooms and wonder why miracles no longer seem to exist. Let us not grumble or complain that the world is not exactly as we would have it. Instead, let us remind ourselves that there are reasons—hopefully many reasons—for us to be grateful for what we have this November.
A Note on the Historical Thanksgiving
A great deal has been said the past several decades about the historical Thanksgiving. In the United States Thanksgiving, as we celebrate it, marks the fragile friendship between the Pequot people and the Pilgrims. This friendship, unfortunately, later turned into resentment, hostility, and warfare—and the suffering and subjugation of anyone, for whatever reason, should never be glorified.
However, the idea of Thanksgiving is greater than a historic meeting of peoples, ostensibly in the name of peace and friendship. True Thanksgiving originates from the idea of giving thanks to God who has provided for us. The Pilgrims in the 1620s were starving and dying in large numbers in their settlement. It was their original peace and friendship with the Native Americans that led them to not only survive but begin to thrive in a land they did not comprehend.
Thanksgiving is and should be a celebration. No matter where we find ourselves or how desperate life becomes, God is there and we give thanks.
Our Scripture Lesson
Instead of going into great detail on our Scripture lesson, word by word and line by line, I would like to stress the overall idea of thanksgiving as it appears here. Ten lepers came to Jesus and asked to be cured, Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests (the representatives of God on earth), and they were cured as a result. Only one of the original ten came back to give thanks to the Lord.
The other nine lepers, no longer suffering, forgot to thank God for what they had been given. They thought that as they were cured, there was no longer a reason to acknowledge the Lord. There was no longer a reason to pray. There was no longer a reason to praise God’s name. Now that they had their health, there was nothing more that they wanted from God, and so they neglected him.
The idea of thanksgiving in the Gospel of Luke stresses that no matter your situation, good or bad, healthy or ill, wealthy or poor, joyful or desperate – remember to give thanks for what you have – remember to give thanks for what you have been given – remember, when you are cured, that you could easily be sick again.
Give Thanks to God
In contrast to the Gospel lesson, we now find ourselves unwell in body and spirit. Member(s) of our church family are directly affected by a pandemic that a year ago wasn’t even on the radar. We have once again had to close our building and our worship services will resume in youtube and zoom format beginning next week. The November frost and cold have set into our bones. Many of us find ourselves isolated spiritually as well as physically. Our combined futures—as a church, as a community, as a nation, and as a planet—seem uncertain and ever-changing.
However, there is a great deal to be thankful for.
Be thankful that our church continues to weather the storm and that our spiritual family will be waiting to gather together again in the New Year.
Be thankful for medical testing, that can identify if we contract Covid-19 so we may take the proper steps to be well again and keep others safe.
Be thankful for medical documentation. This is not a phantom illness like the bubonic plague so many people compare it to. We know the symptoms, we know how it spreads, and we have precautions and evolving solutions for when we or loved ones fall ill.
Be thankful that we can connect with our friends and family even if we may not be with them. The telephone is an innovation that turned a planet into a global neighborhood. Social media allows us to connect with friends with just a tap of a button. We can now see each other smile on our computer screens even from isolation with facetime and zoom.
Be thankful for the global outpouring of love and friendship and kindness during these difficult times.
Be thankful for God, who hears our prayers and will answer them, even if we may not recognize the signs immediately.
God be with you today and every day. He is a loving and gentle God who listens when you cry out. He will never turn away from your anguish. He will always love you even when you doubt him. He will walk beside you when you are well and carry you when you are ailing.
Stay strong this Thanksgiving and into the Coming Season. I pray I will see you soon and we will all be once again together, worshiping in Florence.
Rev. Averill Elizabeth Blackburn