I know that many of us have good memories of Thanksgiving. Some years might not have been so great or were downright difficult. Others leave many good memories. New marriages, new babies, new jobs, and all those other “new” life changes can be a rallying point to bring people closer together and recognize the relationships they cherish. Family feuds, partisan politics, issues related to money, and more can cause rifts to form between clans within a family. Some Thanksgivings are full of joy and gratitude. Others leave us unsatisfied and unthankful.
I remember Thanksgiving 1993 when my cousin and I crawled around on our hands and knees, each with our own Jurassic Park Jungle Explorer, wrangling up a small herd of escaped triceratops as we waited for dinner to finish cooking. Of course, since triceratops are mostly docile herbivores, the real problem was hunting down the crafty, deadly velociraptor that snuck into their pen and caused the stampede! It is a joyful memory for which I easily give thanks.
I also remember Thanksgiving 2016. I sat impatiently throughout dinner and left early so I could get back to my apartment to check on my cat. The cat was not well, and I was hoping to go home and find evidence of improvement. When I got home, I found my cat suffering as before. The vet put him down the day after Thanksgiving that year. Joy and gratitude were hard that year.
The memories are different every year. This year the memories are shaped by the pandemic. For many of us, our gatherings may be smaller, and empty places will be noted around the table. Our menus diminished. Beyond the family sit-downs, the serving and volunteering to help those in need have changed. Thanksgiving Day lunch normally delivered to those who have to work this holiday, like hospital workers, law enforcement, first-responders, clerks, and convenience store workers, that have brightened the day in the past will be done differently, delivered with extra caution this year, if they are done at all.
Whether our day has the trapping of joy, or the marks of struggle, I think of what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” I can rejoice that my cousin and I had a blast. I can look back and even rejoice that I had that cat to love for a time.
We all have our memories, good and bad. This year many memories may be just plain weird. Yet, knowing that God rejoices with us, suffers with us, and hears us when we pray, we can give thanks in all circumstances. That is the call of Thanksgiving Day. Not just to be grateful for the good, but also that even the bad is the object of Christ’s redeeming touch. Thanks be to God.