Admittedly, his call to nationalize the Thanksgiving holiday was in part political. The first European colony to survive in what is today the United States was, of course, Jamestown – a colony that was not only part of a Confederate state but near the capitol of the Confederacy. There was a desire from Lincoln and those fighting against southern sedition to remember and celebrate the United States as having its founding in the North, not the South, even though the facts were otherwise.
Yet, reflecting this year on the origins of Thanksgiving as a national holiday, I am most struck by the fact that this call for the entire nation to observe a day of giving thanks to God for what we have been given came in the middle of one of the most thankless moments in our nation’s history. It was out of the horror and carnage of Americans killing Americans by the thousands, the trauma of our nation tearing at the seams, the economic hardship that occurs when a country is at war with itself, that President Lincoln called upon our citizens to stop and say, “Thank you Lord for all that we have received.” Kind of wild when you think about it.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like it takes a lot more work to give thanks to our Creator these days compared with other times of life. Anxieties, frustrations, anger, division, sadness, all seem to be collectively higher than they have ever been in my lifetime. As I write this, we have lost over 738,000 Americans to this new virus that popped up in Wuhan two years ago this month. Staggering. Tragic. The way forward seems long, and any path out of our collective funk seems uncertain. I do not know how we will move on from this and come together again – as a church or as a nation.
However, this was the case in 1863, too. They had no idea how they were going to figure everything out and move forward, but they did know that they could give thanks to God in the moment anyway. They did not have much to speak of, and they bore great hardship all around them, much as we are enduring in our time. Still, all was not lost, and they thanked God for that fact. I pray the same may be true for us this month, too. Happy Thanksgiving.