Thanksgiving is an interesting holiday. While the story that is taught in school is the one of starving Pilgrims and Native Americans sitting down together for a meal, the holiday wasn't established as a national holiday that day. Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation he stated:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Lincoln sets Thanksgiving apart as a uniquely American holiday. There really is something incredibly American about this holiday. I heard one commentator call it the ‘high holy day of the American civil religion’. This may or not may not be true, but Thanksgiving is a distinctly American identity marker.
As our family prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving here in Scotland again, I have contemplated that reality. The distinctiveness that this one celebration has for marking me out as an American has been fascinating to consider. The most striking part for me is the fact that the way in which the act giving thanks marks me out in other ways, most poignantly as a Christian.
The preacher in his sermon which we have come to call the book of Hebrews says:
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken… - Hebrews 12:28
When we gather on a Sunday morning as the covenant assembly of the Triune God, we gather to give thanks. We gather to give thanks to God for he has given us a kingdom. We gather to receive the kingdom.
The main difference between pagan worship and Christian worship is just this point. In pagan worship, the worshipper comes offering something to their god, in order to get something back from that god. However, in Christian worship we gather, first and foremost, as receivers. In the Dutch Reformed church at the Lord’s Table they are reminded of this when the minister says: ‘The gifts of God for the people of God. Eat/Drink, Remember, and Believe.’ As Christians, we come to worship on Sunday to receive the gifts of God. The preacher in Hebrews 12 then tells us that our only appropriate response is gratitude.
I love Thanksgiving. It is a great holiday. However, I love Sunday more. It is an even better holy day. It is the day that we gather together to meet God and receive the kingdom. It is the day that we, as the covenant assembly, meet the Triune king, who walks among us, and receive his good gifts. It is the day we hear God’s Word and respond. It is the day that God gives himself to his people as a foretaste of what is to come. Thanksgiving is great, but Sunday is better.