O give thanks to the Lord

Thursday 24 November is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. The first Thanksgiving Day was celebrated in November 1621 by the Plymouth colonists and the indigenous Wampanoag people. In September 1620 a small ship called the Mayflower left Plymouth in England carrying 102 passengers. Most of the families on board were Christians who belonged to churches independent of the state church and who were seeking a new home where they would be free to worship and practice their faith. Others on board were seeking to build a new life in the “New World.” The crossing lasted 66 days and was uncomfortable and dangerous. They dropped anchor near the tip of Cape Cod and one month later crossed Massachusetts Bay where the Pilgrims began establishing the village of Plymouth.

The first winter was brutal and most of the colonists remained on board the ship, where they suffered from exposure, scurvy, and outbreaks of contagious disease. Only half the Mayflower’s original passengers and crew lived to see their first New England spring. In March, the remaining settlers moved ashore, where they received an astonishing visit from a member of the Abenaki tribe who greeted them in English. Several days later, he returned with another Native American, Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who taught the Pilgrims, weakened by malnutrition and illness, how to cultivate corn, extract sap from maple trees, catch fish in the rivers and avoid poisonous plants. He also helped the settlers forge an alliance with the local Wampanoag tribe.

In November 1621, after the Pilgrims’ first corn harvest proved successful, Governor William Bradford organized a celebratory feast and invited a group of the fledgling colony’s Native American allies, including the Wampanoag chief Massasoit and ninety of his men. The feast was a time of thanksgiving to God for his goodness to them. In 1789 George Washington issued a proclamation calling upon Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s War of Independence. In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation entreating all Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.”

As we look back on a terrible pandemic and face significant economic challenges it would be good for us to give thanks to God who has been and will be gracious to us. Let us take to heart the exhortations of Psalm 107 “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.”

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