23. November 2022
Thanksgiving Eve (Harvest Observance)
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
We all learned to give thanks when we learned to confess the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” What does this mean? “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.
He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this, it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
That’s all-encompassing what God has given you and me as our Creator. It’s quite the list to memorize. Luther took pains to ensure he included everything, with nothing left out. So, if you’re having a hard time coming up with things to be thankful for this holiday, why not start there?
Of course, you could also confess the explanation to the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer and its comparable comprehensive list: “Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”
Indeed one or two of those things has been given to you. No doubt you’ve now a reason to thank God. Maybe you’ve come up short with this or that? But overall, you’re living in the most prosperous era of human history, with the lowest rates of unemployment, poverty, famine, and mortality that the world has ever known. God has blessed you richly. Luther’s two explanations of God as Creator and the gift of daily bread confess that truthfully.
Everyone can celebrate Thanksgiving. None of these blessings of body and life are exclusive to you. Everyone—Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or whatever religious flavor—receives God’s providential gifts. The only thing that distinguishes Christians from the rest of the world is that we acknowledge God as a providential Father and that His gifts are daily given to all. As you confess, “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”
Christians put the thanks where they truly belong—no need to thank Mother Earth, Lady Luck, Fortuna, or ourselves. We are given a name that deserves thanks. The recognition of what deserves thanks is not enough. Where to put that thanks is essential. This belongs to the proper use of God’s name. “We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”
So ask yourself, what is His name? What name would He have you call upon? For Christians, that name is revealed in the Scriptures and confessed its long-form “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” or the shorthand, “Jesus.” But so far, we’ve only confessed the gifts of God the Father and the daily bread He gives everyone. Well, and good. Do we also thank Jesus and the Spirit for the blessings of body and life? Yes!
Remember your catechesis that at Creation, all three persons of the Holy Trinity were active in making everything and are still involved in sustaining it. God spoke the Word, who is Jesus, to bring all things into being. God breathed the Spirit for life into Adam and still breathes life when and where He wills. So, the Creed and Small Catechism gives primary credit for body and life to God the Father. But it also tells us why God the Father cares for us and everyone. He preserves our life for the sake of His Son.
Christians are given to celebrate with thanks more than our creaturely existence. We thank God the Father for the gift of His only Son, our Lord. As much as the gifts of body and life are a blessing, Christ Jesus is our greatest treasure. Because only Jesus has redeemed us, lost and condemned people. Only Jesus has purchased and won us from all sins, death, and the devil’s power. No other God has become man, born of woman, to save humankind. No other God has given His only begotten Son to save us by dying for us as His gift. Only in Jesus are you blessed to live in a kingdom ruled in righteousness, without sin, and under the unending blessing of God.
Even Jesus recognizes and confesses the great gift that He is for us sinners, as you will hear Him proclaim at this altar. “On the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you… In the same way, also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For this Word and all confessions of thanks in the liturgy, the Lord’s Supper has been called the Eucharist, or the Thanksgiving.
But there’s more! We give thanks for the gift of the Spirit, who has called us to faith in Jesus, brought us out of darkness through these gifts, set us apart for God’s good use, and keeps us in true faith. He has brought us together as a holy assembly of preachers and hearers to receive forgiveness for all our sins. The Spirit daily delivers Christ’s forgiveness to us and all believers. And in this forgiveness, we receive more than mere bodily existence. We get the promise of the resurrection of the body incorruptible and life unending.
So, each morning we begin, and each evening we end with a prayer that goes like this, “I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son…” As you pray those words, think of the blessings of body and life God the Father has given you. But also recognize the more fantastic gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation you have in His Son by the Spirit. And then you can say, “O, Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin