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Bishop Dyck's Message: A Different Thanksgiving

Posted: November 24 2020 at 03:09 PM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


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Thanksgiving will be different this year!

We certainly don’t want to dwell on the story of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians sharing food and a recognition of having survived (because so many of the Pilgrims had died). We know that much of that story has been romanticized beyond credibility, and certainly, the reality of what the settlers and their people did to the indigenous people of this land makes it hard to stomach the story or the images we see and remember from our youth.

Presidents along the line, beginning with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, issued proclamations to observe Thanksgiving, usually following very difficult times. Again, there’s some hesitancy to “celebrate” these founders and leaders of our nation because we know that they weren’t perfect in their treatment of Blacks who were enslaved. And as far as Lincoln is concerned, while he evolved in his approach to freeing the Black enslaved people, his actions toward Native Americans were abysmal.  

Then I saw a meme on FB that took Norman Rockwell’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner complete with family and friends of all ages ready to dig into their favorite foods of the day.  Only instead of a big turkey about to be set upon the table, it was the symbol of the COVID-19 virus that has become so familiar on the platter, reminding us that our gatherings need to take into consideration the spread of the disease this year.

I was remembering a year ago when Ken’s brothers and wives were in Chicago for Thanksgiving.  We were thinking of Thanksgivings to come on the West Coast. Family members live about a mile from our house in California and we were imagining gathering around the big table with the assortment of family and friends there. But no, there’s no big gathering of family and friends whiling away the afternoon for us this year due to all the unforeseen events of 2020!  

I’m one of those (few) people who actually likes to cook Thanksgiving dinner. A big turkey with dressing with lots of leftovers to make into soup. But this year, the food will be Cornish hen instead of turkey!

What about you? Will your Thanksgiving be different? Will it still be filled with joy?

It all depends on us. On how we place our priorities. How we live out our deepest values and, I daresay, faith. I’m reminded of a passage from the minor prophet Habakkuk (3:17-19):

Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom,
And there’s no produce on the vine;
Though the olive crop withers,
And the fields don’t provide food;
Though the sheep is cut off from the pen,
And there is no cattle in the stalls;
I will rejoice in the Lord.

I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.
The Lord God is my strength.
(God) will set my feet like the deer.
(God) will let me walk upon the heights.

This is a tough passage but I have periodically recited it when things weren’t going so well…like 2020! The book of Habakkuk struggles with where is God in the midst of all the disaster going on around him and the people. He’s frustrated with the way people are acting—both outside enemies (like the Babylonians) and inside scoffers and scofflaws who only make matters worse for Judah. But Habakkuk holds firm in his faith in God, and like many psalms of lament, this book ends with these verses that name harsh realities but remain steadfast in trusting God and even going so far as to rejoice in the midst of it, having hope that is not yet seen fulfilled.

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That seems like that describes our situation pretty well! Part of what makes this holiday difficult is that we’re supposed to give thanks for all the many blessings that we have received but perhaps so many difficulties and unexpected changes have blinded us to them. But this minor prophet gives us a clue for our holiday gatherings.

Many people have the tradition of saying something that they’re thankful for before diving into the mashed potatoes and gravy with the turkey. That’s a good thing to do this year because we do have many blessings. It’s when we’re struggling that we need to remember or even to see those blessings and give thanks: for health, for life, for love, for the beauty that we may see of God’s creation, for the food that we have before us—whatever it is. Yes, we have blessings and we need to name them one by one.

But before we do that, consider doing what Habakkuk did: he named the harsh realities of his day and his life: no figs blooming, no produce on the vine, no olive crop, no bountiful fields, no sheep or cattle. So what is it that you lament this year, the greatest loss of the year? For some it may be all too evident: the empty chair that represents a loved one who has died of COVID-19 or anything else. For others, it was our plans that didn’t unfold quite like we had hoped. Yet others have lost jobs and income. Some have lost their health. If the minor prophet can name the harsh realities, so can we, but then give thanks for what we have, give thanks and rejoice in what is good and what God has done for and with us in the face of 2020!

We need to make this Thanksgiving different. We need to do as we have been asked—to social distance, refrain from being with people we aren’t sheltering with, keeping our gatherings small, continuing not to hold in-person worship. If we do, we will find ourselves healthy and alive in order to be together again. Please follow the practices which have been set out for us. Your life, your loved ones’ lives, and anyone who comes in contact with you and yours depend upon it. Let’s hold fast to the end—to the time when we have a vaccine! 

No, it’s not going to be the Thanksgiving I had envisioned…and probably not for you either.  

Let me rephrase the last two verses of Habakkuk:

But even with my Cornish hen on a table without the beloved faces of family and friends, 
I will rejoice in the Lord and laugh later with loved ones over Zoom.  
I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance 
(and hopefully an effective vaccine in the near future for all).

The Lord God is my strength to face the harsh realities with faith and hope.
And my heart will be like the deer that bounds through the meadow away from danger 
and climbs to the highest peaks of joy again…
Because I join others in keeping us all safe.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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