By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation: The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… (We) 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, tranquility and Union. -President Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863
Abraham Lincoln was one of those leaders whose particular set of values, skills, and personality supremely fit the challenges and opportunities of a particular moment in time. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863 he deftly weaves a frank recognition of the nation’s deep post-civil war wounds with hope for healing and a sense of holy gratitude to “the Almighty.”
Thanksgiving is a national holiday, and one that continues to hold the promise and pain of this experiment called the United States of America. Faithful pilgrims set out for a new country in which to practice a faith they felt endangered. Here they met indigenous people already living rich lives and practicing a faith both of which became endangered. And now we seem to find ourselves in an era that produces a cover article boldly asking, “Is Democracy Dead?” and endless cultural “civil war.” Lincoln’s Thanksgiving prayer rings so poignantly, that the Divine might 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, tranquility and Union.
Thanksgiving, conveniently, also dovetails nicely with many faith traditions including ours. The Psalmist urges, “Give thanks to God for God is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps. 136) The Thessalonian Church hears, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5) John Calvin’s third use of the Law is to observe it as a demonstration of thanksgiving. And in our Eucharistic liturgy we proclaim, “It is good to give our thanks and praise.”
It’s not a legalism, or a rule. Not another religious have-to. It’s an invitation and an opportunity. In thanksgiving, at Thanksgiving, we take the spotlight off ourselves and refocus it on God’s gracious care and provision for all the people of the world, including ourselves and this nation.
There is an implicit obligation. It’s that as we enjoy the table that’s been set for us, in all shapes and forms and places, we make room at the table for others. That’s this nation’s legacy. That’s what Reedville tries to do. That’s where we can find the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.