The Birthing of Thankfulness

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.

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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:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts usin all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 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. 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.

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. 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)

Happy Thanksgiving!

From Slavery to Worship

The exodus of the Israelites is the great defining display of God’s (YaHWeH’s) power, love, and faithfulness. In the exodus, we learn more about God’s character and present and future plans than most stories throughout Scripture.

The song (or poem) found in Exodus 15, immediately after God delivered the Israelites from being crushed by Pharaoh’s army at the edge of the great sea, is acknowledged by most scholars to be one of the earliest poetic texts in the Old Testament. It celebrates YHWH bringing his people out of slavery and freeing them through the waters of the sea (a form of baptism if you will). This Song of Moses, and Miriam’s song at the end, show us YHWH’s character and mission that speak to the actual realities of the exodus, and foretell in a cryptic kind of way, the justice of YHWH in the end:

YHWH’s character and mission revealed through worship (Ex. 15:1-21):
YHWH is a warrior God (1-10; 14-16a) He exacts justice. He does not let the wicked go without punishment. He fights for the oppressed. He makes a mockery of world powers. He’s fierce towards his enemies, and gentle towards his people.

YHWH is an incomparable God (11-12) He keeps his promises. He has supreme power and wisdom. He leads the heavenly assemblies. He rules over the nations. He forgives sin and sets free sinners. There are no gods who oppose him.

YHWH is a redeeming God (13, 16b-17) His love (hesed) sacrificially buys his people back. YHWH is a redeemer: go’el; a Hb. word that refers to any member within a wider family who had the responsibility to protect the interests of the family or a specific member of the family who was in particular need. What’s unique about YHWH being referred at the go’el of his people, was that the go’el had the role to: 1) Avenge shed blood of family members (Numbers 35:12), 2) Buy back any land or slaves to keep them in the family (Leviticus 25), and 3) Provide an heir to preserve each family’s name (Story of Ruth and Boaz). Notice that YHWH as go’el is concerned with a home for his people.

v. 13b: you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
v. 17: You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.

The holy abode (sanctuary) and the mountain. The tabernacle and the promised land. The temple and Jerusalem. Jesus and the holy city. This is the progressive importance of the holy abode and the mountain. YHWH makes a home for his people where he is present with them, and he is preparing a home that will one day get rid of all that opposes him.

YHWH sees the homelessness of his people. Their ecological homelessness. Their social homelessness. Their physical homelessness. Their spiritual homelessness. He sees all the forms of homelessness, and through the exodus is shouting out loud to us, I’m bringing you HOME!!!

YHWH is the king (18) His throne, his kingdom, his home, will be the only ones that last forever. YHWH is king, and his rule will never end, which means what he builds will never end either.

YHWH is to be worshipped (21) The glory and beauty of his acts of redemption demand worship to him alone. He is the only one who can bear the glorious weight of worship. This is why man or other created things are not to be worshipped… they weren’t created to bear the weight of glory that comes with worship. We fold under the pressure of worship, YHWH shines!

As we have seen, the unique element about this story of the exodus is that it shows us God’s mission through his righteous character. Our mission as followers of Jesus is first God’s mission that he has invited us into, and the exodus depicts God’s mission in a way that makes our gospel much bigger and comprehensive than we could ever imagine.

But something else this song portrays is the justice that is to come. The question that rings in my ears and many other people’s ears as we read this is, “Does this kind of justice really exist? And if it did, maybe I should be the one who is drowned.”

The great exodus and the crushing of the mightiest nation in the ancient days (Egypt) is a depiction and a promissory note to all of us who are longing for justice, that there will be a day, with no more tears, no more pain, where evil will no longer be at work, and we will be at home with the Ancient of Days.

This great baptism in Exodus is a promise to you and I that evil and injustice never gets the last word. Take heart today in the midst of injustices everywhere, that your fight for justice today is not in vain, and is never going to go unnoticed, ultimately. In a day where systems are protected over people, governments oppress the masses, and terrorists threaten peace and safety, don’t forget that love alone is worth the fight.

Israel went from slavery to worship as justice rolled down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. This day is fully coming, but it has also already come in Christ. Jesus took what we deserved and gave us what he deserved. Today, justice in the courts of heaven can be a reality for you if you have eyes to see it, as we wait for and fight for complete justice on earth.

So what does it mean for us today? It may mean something different for each of us, but I want to close with an excerpt from two friends who I am in fellowship with and do life with. I emailed them and asked them to give me their insight into the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, and here’s what they said this text means to them (us) today:

Philip: “I think it is a picture of how we should praise Jesus for his sacrifice. For his winning the fight for us, it means we no longer need to battle, if we lean on Jesus and put our faith in him the battle has already been won. The only thing left for us to do is to take out our tambourines and sing his praise and do this in a manner that everybody will join us. This seems so simple, too simple, but if we show our joy it will become infectious and others will want to know what is so awesome. This gives us the chance to share the good news.”

Annette: “We are to tell stories where we’ve doubted God and where we know He has rescued us.  We are to sing songs and dance all over the head of evil as we sing of God’s loving, victorious salvation.  We are to tell the stories we so often avoid telling because they are bloody and ugly and because there is no victory without loss.  War leaves behind causalities which breaks the heart of God and too ought to break our hearts.  We have to wear clothes of sorrow and desire for justice as we put on our dancing shoes and play our tambourines as we sing songs that tell the stories where even though we deserved death we have been given the gift of life.”

Praise Jesus.

Sing with tambourines.

Tell stories of our rescue.

Sing and dance over evils head.

Wear clothes of sorrow (don’t brush over our pain and loss in the midst of the battle)

Desire and fight for justice, because it’s coming, it will not delay.