Monday, October 7, 2013

Preacher's Study - Thanksgiving Day

The Preacher’s Study
Thoughts about Thanksgiving Day’s sermon

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

John W.B. Hill

The first reading defines the character of true thanksgiving.  It begins in narrative, the story of how we got here; it moves on to an act of offering and blessing God; and it ends in receiving — and sharing with others — a blessing from God.  It is narrative like this that anchors us in the awareness of our own contingency, that prevents us from taking the circumstances of our lives for granted or becoming greedy and possessive of gifts we were meant to share.  Without such awareness, we fall prey to the spirit of acquisitive consumerism; we become lackeys of the predatory corporations that plunder the earth.

Jesus’ encounter with the crowd who were obsessed with the ‘great picnic’ explores this critical issue of our existence.  If we have fallen captive to the prevailing consumerist world view, we too will end up “working for the food that perishes,” setting our hearts on stuff that cannot satisfy.  Consumerism is actually built upon this phenomenon; we are enticed into a cyclical pattern of behaviour: shopping (which titillates desire and makes the heart race), purchasing (which satisfies the desire, temporarily), and then detaching (which makes it possible for the cycle to continue).  If there were no detaching, the consumer economy would collapse.  Detachment begins when the shine wears off the purchase, and is complete as soon as we hear the announcement of the new and improved model (or see the new fashions for the upcoming season).

But Jesus invites us to recognize in this pattern of unfulfilled desire the intimation of a higher good, one that will satisfy; “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven . . . I am the bread of life.”  As C.S. Lewis observed, “Our problem is not that our desires are too strong; our desires are too weak.”

It is our Jewish brothers and sisters who have lived within the narrative of God’s salvation longer than the rest of us; and they sing a song in their Passover Seder that expresses the spirit of thanksgiving with a reckless charm unmatched by any of our tamer Christian thanksgivings.  Here are some verses of the Dayenu song:

If He had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years,
and had not fed us the manna,
it would have sufficed us!

If He had fed us the manna,
and had not given us the Sabbath,
it would have sufficed us!

If He had given us the Sabbath,
and had not brought us before Mount Sinai,
it would have sufficed us!

If He had brought us before Mount Sinai,
and had not given us the Torah,
it would have sufficed us!

If He had given us the Torah,
and had not brought us into the land of Israel,
it would have sufficed us!

Christians might add,

If He had given us his own Son,
and had not brought him again from the dead,
it would have sufficed us!

If He had brought him again from the dead,
and had not poured out his Spirit upon us,
it would have sufficed us!

If He had poured out his Spirit,
and had not given us to the world as sign of His love,
it would have sufficed us!

How else, apart from this spirit of thankfulness, could we explain a letter written from prison that calls us to rejoice, to be gentle, to abandon anxiety, and to live in God’s peace?

John Hill is a presbyter in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). A member of APLM Council, John also serves as president of Liturgy Canada. He chairs the Primate’s Task Force on Hospitality, Christian Initiation and Discipleship Formation in the ACC.

The painting featured at the top of this post is “Loaves and Fishes,” by Chelle Fazal. Her artwork is available for purchase at

No comments:

Post a Comment