In our country, Thanksgiving is usually traced to 1621 when a pilgrim leader, William Bradford, proclaimed a day of feasting to commemorate the first harvest after a long year of suffering.
What you may not know is that, as the colonies grew more prosperous, the people forgot all about Thanksgiving – and the meaning it held for their ancestors. As a result, for generations Thanksgiving was celebrated sporadically, if at all, with no set date.
Then in 1822, Sarah Hale, a young widow from New Hampshire – who also gave us the nursery rhyme about a girl named Mary and her little lamb – decided to revive this important celebration.
Sarah, a mother of five children and an editor of a women’s magazine, began a 40 year campaign of writing editorials and letters to governors and presidents to get Thanksgiving officially recognized as a national holiday.
Three presidents turned her down. But her obsession became a reality in 1863 – when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November as an annual celebration of Thanksgiving.
Abraham Lincoln – of all people – and at all times. . .
I say that because his own life was at a very low ebb in 1863. Lincoln had already lost two of his four sons: Eddie died in 1850, and Willie had just died in 1862. Both deaths sent his wife, Mary, into a depression that could have easily resulted in her being institutionalized. But instead, Mary just spent money that neither the family – nor the country – could easily afford.
Having grown up in Kentucky and with relatives still there that Mary kept in weekly contact with – she was also investigated as a possible traitor to the Union – a process that Lincoln personally found to be bitterly wounding.
And of course in 1863 – the country was two years, and thousands of casualties – into a war which at its beginning, was anticipated to last only a few months – but would stretch on for another two years.
The country was literally falling apart, and Lincoln’s political future looked bleak. Many of the members of his own cabinet openly despised him and joked about him in public.
In the face of such personal and national circumstances, Lincoln’s call for a day of PRAYER would have made sense --- but THANKSGIVING??? At a time like this?? What must this man, who apparently had little to be thankful for – have been thinking??
Of the five people you get to meet in heaven according to Mitch Album’s book – I hope one of my five is Abraham Lincoln. He is certainly one of my historical heroes. Although a man who did not outwardly practice any faith consistently – he was a man who did consistently turn inwardly --- and had a deep spiritual side.
Perhaps he was just an extreme introvert cast into and extrovert’s role. . . who never quite got that figured out. . .
I think his deep spiritual side clearly showed in two ways in establishing Thanksgiving as a holiday.
First, I think he would agree with St. Paul’s words in his letter to the Philippians: “rejoice in the lord always – I shall say it again: rejoice!”
Because no matter what is going on in our personal lives – no matter what we are facing no matter what is happening to us -- -there is always something we can find to rejoice about – even if it is only the fact that we are breathing in and out ---
Or we have food on the table – or a warm place to sleep at night – or a roof over our heads ---- because many DON’T.
We can at least rejoice because we have the gift of faith and a life-giving parish in which we can express it. Or maybe that a son or daughter is making it home from Afghanistan or another place in the world -- this year for Thanksgiving or Christmas
Rejoice always --- even in the midst of his personal darkness – Lincoln was able to see the light – and so should we!
And then perhaps, since this is just pure speculation – Lincoln possibly realized a second source of motivation for giving thanks –
Perhaps he remembered that the only house to make the newspapers – is the one that burns down. . . the other five hundred in the neighborhood that don’t burn – aren’t newsworthy.
Which is to say – to remember – and remember with gratitude – the everyday, ordinary heroes – and they are countless – that pass quite unnoticed and unheralded – but which are absolutely necessary to gentle lives – comfort hearts – and secure places of refuge – in this tumultuous world.
You know – those who show concern, serve, and care – day in and day out – those subtly planted seeds of faith, hope, and love – that someone puts quietly there every day that make a difference. That was true in 1863 – and it is true today.
For here, today, in 2019 – 156 years after Lincoln publicly declared this a national holiday: we would not have to look far or wide or long – to find reasons to be scared, or depressed or despaired. . .
Like Lincoln – we are sorely conflicted personally and nationally and within the Church --- and there can seem to be little reason to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. . .
But at least for a few moments this day – let’s lift our heads and hearts and gain a vision of two good reasons to be thankful – first, for all our personal troubles we may be experiencing – we are still blessed in many ways compared to the rest of the world.
And second, we have countless, selfless, quiet, taken-for-granted heroes who --- day in and day out – tirelessly shape our faith – rekindle our hope – and show us love. They are our promise of a better future.
For these admirable riches, O God, we do give you thanks!
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