In two days America will celebrate Thanksgiving. It will be a time for families to come together and give thanks for God blessings. Or at least we will mouth the words that that is what we are doing. For many, the Thanksgiving meal will be nothing more that a quick feast at half time of the day’s football game. And unfortunately for many it will be nothing more than another day of hunger, of very little to eat. It will be another day in a cold house or apartment because winter is here and there is not enough money for heat.
For some, our soldiers in another land, it will be another day away from their families fighting for freedom, and longing to be home with their families so they too can watch that football game.
For those who can give thanks, they will do so, but at the same time most will forget that Thanksgiving Day is far more than a day of thanksgiving. It is also a day of confession, a day of penitence. It is a day to search our souls as individuals, as families, as a nation and confess our failings. Giving thanks is not enough and has never been on this day of thanksgiving.
I am certain that some of you will stop reading with my last words and only think that I am far too radical for you. Don’t stop reading! What do I mean including confession with Thanksgiving? You claim that day is a day to give thanks for God’s bounty and nothing more It is not a penitential day you claim. Yes it is was and has been since it began. Until the 20th century the idea of confession of sins was always included in Thanksgiving.
In 1777 the Continental Congress issued the first call for a Day of Thanksgiving. In it it says:
“. . . It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance. . .”
On 3 October 1789, President George Washington issued a Day of Thanksgiving proclamation, in which it says:
“. . . Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions. . .”
On 3 October 1863, President Abraham Lincoln followed President George Washington’s example:
“. . . I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience . . .”
That tradition, of thanksgiving and penitence, was not followed in the 20th century. Rather, Thanksgiving Day became simple a day of giving thanks, but not of confession. As a result, our day of Thanksgiving has become woefully deficient. Yes, it is definitely a day of giving thanks. But, if I could phrase it in a way closer to what our forefathers/mothers said, it is a day to give thanks that in spite of our many sins God has yet been faithful to bless us and provide for us.
Yesterday, at our parish, we celebrated the memorial of Paulos Mar Gregorios. Besides some of the parish, there were visitors from Goshen College which is just down the road and where he first study in America. Mar Gregorios reposed on November 24, 1996. Among his prayers were the following:
Lord and Creator of humanity, have mercy on this race of ours! In your image it was created, to live in peace and joy, reflecting your glory. Look at us now!
Swords and spears we have learned to make, to maim and kill, to oppress and to exploit. Now guns and rockets, bombs and tanks!! We lust and covet, we fight and destroy, for it’s desires have overpowered us. Our greed has become insatiable.
— Have mercy on us, Lord!
We have the borders of our own lands and seek fellowship with others only as our desires and our greed drive us. We go out only to plunder and rob, to steal and exploit, through our trade policies and our commercial strategies. We are still as greedy as ever, still as violent, still as oppressive.
— Have mercy on us, Lord!
By our greed and lust, by our pride and selfishness, we have made this world, a place of strife and struggle of war and terrorism. We spend a major portion of the fruit of our labors to fight our brothers and sisters in other lands or in our own. Have compassion for our miserable plight!
— Have mercy on us, Lord!
Teach us to seek justice and to pursue peace, not seeking our own, but serving the interests of the poor and needy, the oppressed and the exploited. Teach us to labor in love without greed, in order to serve in dignity and serve the needs of our fellow human beings. Teach us not to covet, not to exploit, not to oppress.
— Teach us the ways of peace, Lord!
In December of 1984, Mar Gregorios wrote in his New Year’s message the following:
And throughout the year 1985, there should be the group discipline of prayer and fasting, for the forces unleashed upon our world are demonic, and these kind do not come forth but by prayer and fasting.
If Christians would take less to blaming others for all the problems of the world and recognize their own complicity in the structures of injustice and oppression, that would be a good start. But we should go farther than bewailing our own sins. We should fast and pray that the power of the cross may dispel these demonic forces. So a blessed New Year with prayer and fasting to all of you!
So, let us this Thanksgiving, when we pray around our tables with our family and friends, remember to offer up some prayers of confession as well as the traditional prayers of thanksgiving. Let us admit our national sins, for that is what all the proclamations call us to do, express our remorse, and then express our thankfulness that he blessed us in spite of ourselves. In this way, you will identify with our forefathers and mothers and carry on a very appropriate Day of Thanksgiving. And let us heed Mar Gregorios’ call for fasting and prayer as we enter the fast of the Nativity in preparation for Jesus birth.