On the day of a predominantly American tradition, I love to look back and remember the heart of a day like today. For centuries there have been celebrations during a year of bountiful harvests. Giving thanks to the one who gives rain and sun had always been a part of ancient and native living, especially when times are good. Thankfulness has always been the main reason for celebrations like our modern day Turkey day.
In 1621, however, there was an amazing harvest on the heels of one of the worst years of sickness that brought death to both Pilgrims and Natives alike. It was the companionship of sorrow and suffering that gave birth to celebration that we know of in the West called Thanksgiving. When the ground finally produced a plethora of crops again, along with the hard work of the newcomers and the Natives, they rewarded themselves with a unity meal of thanksgiving.
My wife is currently re-reading a book to our children called Hinds Feet On High Places. The story of the Natives and the Pilgrims and their year of great tragedy that gave birth to a thankful celebration reminded me of the two companions that the “Shepherd” in the story of Hinds Feet On High Places gave to “Much Afraid:” “Sorrow” and “Suffering.” It was “Sorrow” and “Suffering” that she was to grasp hands with so that she would be able to get to where she needed to go. This isn’t something that we like to talk about because of the tragic nature of suffering and loss, and it’s definitely not something we ask for. But none the less, sorrow and suffering cannot be ignored, as they are ever before us.
It seems that it’s the embracing of (not the numbing from) sorrow and suffering that actually produces celebrations of the heart. To focus on the abundance with a neglect of the loss and sorrow that came before the harvest would be to cheat ourselves of the depth of celebration that we were meant to experience. It is precisely the pain and death in various ways that gives birth to something new and fresh, but never disconnected from the loss. I believe it to be this way only because it was the Creator who became the one to lay his life on the line, to embrace sorrow and suffering for the abundance of everyone else, so that with him and through him, the tomb would become a womb, in which new life would come. It would be on the heels of defeat and death that a celebration of such great magnitude would erupt and bring for great joy and new life.
Today, I want to remember the heart of Thanksgiving, and to grieve that what happened on that day in 1621 did not continue and much more grief and loss was brought upon the Natives of this American land. I want to be intentionally connected to the pain and loss in my life and the lives of others throughout our world today, so that my thanksgiving would be rooted in the fabric of the sorrow and suffering of Christ, the one who gives purpose to our losses and gives life from death. In a day when suffering covers the globe and widows and orphans will go unfed with no homes, I want to stand in solidarity (even if it’s only through remembrance and acknowledgement of their pain and loss), that there will be a day of celebration for them and for their suffering and sorrow to make way for new life, that their tomb today would create a womb that gives birth to thanksgiving.
Until that day comes, I will always fight to hold the tension of all my celebrations in light of those who having nothing to celebrate at the moment, and eat with a heart of gratitude and remembrance of my savior who gave suffering and sorrow meaning and purpose, something that I don’t have to be afraid of, nor pretend aren’t happening on such a fun day of feasting. This scripture passage below has meant so much to me through the years, and continues to help me hold the tensions of suffering and celebration:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts usin all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (NIV)