Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends, or at least that’s how this national holiday has come to be observed over the decades. Even though I grew up in a very religious family, our local congregation always celebrated the occasion on the Sunday prior. Our pastor (somewhat judgmentally) annually made a point of saying there was no use in having a worship service on Thanksgiving Day since, “no one would be there.” From childhood through my early adulthood, I had never attended a worship service on Thanksgiving Day. And then I became an Episcopalian.
Even with the theological ambiguity of observing a liturgy which commemorates an overtly a “national” holiday, every Episcopal congregation with which I have been connected has either gathered on Thanksgiving Eve or on the Day itself. One congregation always had a ginormous cornucopia filled with all sorts of fruits and vegetables, which were donated to a local food pantry following the liturgy. Another congregation has, for decades, served a hot turkey luncheon to the homeless who make their abode under the shadow of the church’s bell tower. The short story is, Episcopalians of a certain generation would never, ever miss the chance to come to liturgy to sing “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing,” and “Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices.” They would even dutifully listen to their clergy hold forth on the necessity of thanking God the other 364 days of the year!
When I arrived at Trinity, the custom of a Eucharistic celebration on the morning of Thanksgiving was very much alive, but like so much in our culture, this custom is in some degree of flux. As it became obvious to me that attendance at today’s liturgy would be the lowest since my arrival, I couldn’t help but think of the many Trinity folks who were faithful Thanksgiving Day liturgy attenders, and who are no longer with us. Some have moved away, but most of them have moved on from this life — now resting in the hope of the resurrection. I remembered several of them specifically — where they sat in the nave for worship; the way they would smile during the Peace; how they enjoyed telling me about previous rectors in this place; and most of all, how much they loved God and the Episcopal Church. These folks were all a part of the generation that is passing away. I am thankful I was privileged to be their pastor for a while. I am grateful to have known such faithful souls who gave so much of their time, energy and money in order to pass the gift that is Trinity Church on to generations that will follow them on this little corner in Wauwatosa.
The present reality for our congregation is that, on Thanksgiving Day, most of our folks are in one of two distinct groups. Some are the people who are traveling to see other people — whether across town or across the country. Others are the people waiting to receive the people who are traveling to see them. Either way, this has been a busy week of preparation for today’s celebration. As I think about it, my heart is warmed with the thought that, throughout today, the good people of Trinity Church will gather with relatives and friends all across the country. They will share stories and catch up on old times. They will snap pictures and take videos to record the events of the day. More than a few of them will have to take some time to cheer for/jeer for their beloved Packers. And, I am quite sure, at some point today, they will offer a prayer of Thanksgiving to the Good Lord for all their blessings. These are good and holy things and God will be glorified.
For those of us who gathered inside the church building today, the liturgy was simple. We offered some prayers. We listened to some music. We heard the words of Scripture. The Spirit was present as we prayed for friends and loved ones; those who are in need of healing and the ministries throughout our area that work tirelessly to offer healing and help. We exchanged the Peace of Christ with joy and compassion. We gathered around the Holy Table and celebrated the Eucharist. We prayed the Lord’s Prayer. We shared the Holy Food and Drink of new and unending life. This was a good and holy thing and God was glorified.
Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst of them.” For the record, though, Jesus is very much present when thirteen are gathered too. Thanks be to God. Happy Thanksgiving!