What does Thanksgiving mean to you? How do you feel about Thanksgiving? Though we will all be doing something for the holiday, almost every one of us brings a different context and perspective to the experience. What resonates most with you on the day we set aside to be thankful?
For many Americans, Thanksgiving means to travel. For most airports, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year according to the Transportation Security Administration. The two days before Christmas and the one before Thanksgiving also tend to draw big crowds. Americans will endure flight delays, traffic jams, misplaced luggage, and other logistic nightmares in order to spend time with family and friends.
For some folks, Thanksgiving is about food. Recently Psychology Today asked the question, “Why is there so much food on Thanksgiving?” At one point or another, the menu on Thursday becomes a topic of the conversation. The dinner can be viewed as a feast or a meal eaten in celebration. A couple of years ago, the food section of the New York Times devoted several pages to the dishes typically served on this holiday. Sharing food together forms and reinforces bonds.
For others, Thanksgiving is about sports. Many people look forward to a little friendly competition on the holiday. Whether it’s playing outside with the family or screaming fiercely at the television, sports fans enjoy a feast of football and basketball at Thanksgiving.
But Thanksgiving can also be emotionally overwhelming. Sibling rivalry, blended-family tensions, or debate over political positions can cause the hope of togetherness to splinter into toothpick-sized headaches. One subtle insult from a relative and the process begins. Your blood pressure rises, you become warm and irritated, and the palms of your hands tend to sweat.
For our family, Thanksgiving also begins the transition from fall to winter. Decorations of autumn’s colors and spicy scents are replaced with winter’s festivities and pinecone and cinnamon smells. The Christmas tree is unpacked, and burned-out lights are replaced.
So how do you feel about Thanksgiving? Are you nostalgic or lonesome? Do you feel connected or angry? How do you feel about the traditions of Thanksgiving in your life? Are there some that you would like to preserve? Are there others that need to be changed because your circumstances have evolved?
When my heart needs to be reminded to be grateful, one passage of Scripture always comes to mind. The incident occurs in the Gospels. Luke records the details of this experience in the life of Jesus. In Luke 17, Jesus is traveling to Jerusalem along the border between Galilee and Samaria. Outside of a village, ten lepers shout to Jesus about their plight. They beg Him to respond with miraculous healing. They shout in a loud voice, “Have pity on us!”
I don’t have to go beyond those three verses to find myself in the passage. The text doesn’t tell us, but the lepers probably didn’t cry out constantly when no one was close enough to hear. They may also have become discerning with their cries, using the energy only when the person nearby could actually help. When I am in despair, I cry out to God.
Jesus responds in an unusual way. Instead of calling them aside to heal them, He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. If the setting were today, they would have been instructed to go to church. It is easy to ask for a “God-sized” answer to prayer and then wonder why we don’t find it nestled in our normal way of life. If you want to find God, start your search in places He normally hangs out.
As the ten lepers walked toward the synagogue, they were healed. Can’t you just imagine what happened? Some immediately ran toward their homes to see loved ones and friends whom they had been missing for ages. Others obediently continued their journey to the priests. There must have been an incredible celebration that evening.
Again, I find myself in this story. How often does the answer to prayer come and I immediately begin to celebrate and enjoy the blessing? Life begins to return to normal. It is easy to become lost in the process.
One of the ten lepers saw he had been healed and he turned around and went back to Jesus. As he approaches Jesus he is shouting at the tops of his lungs. Can’t you just hear the man yelling? He is beside himself with joy. He gets to Jesus and the Scripture says he threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him. Such a strong image. Sometimes the Bible describes it as falling at a person’s feet. Here the picture is a baserunner diving head-first into the base.
“Weren’t there ten of you?” Jesus asked. “Wasn’t everyone healed? Where are the other nine?”
I spend too much of my time with the other nine. They weren’t doing bad things. They were fulfilling the requirements of the Law or celebrating with their families. Life continued at such a quick pace, they simply got swept away.
This holiday I want to overlook the annoying nature of Cousin Ernie. Political debate and sports loyalties must be reserved for another time and another place. Dogs barking and children crying need to remind me of the loud praises of a healed Samaritan.
How should I feel at Thanksgiving? I should feel grateful, and I need to remember to return and say “Thanks” to God.