Thanksgiving is not only an national holiday, it is a motif that the Christian Scriptures say characterizes the spiritual life of those who have been recreated by the Holy Spirit. In union with Jesus Christ, thanksgiving is a principle of new life. It so characterizes our existence that Paul can say that we ought "to give thanks in all circumstances: for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1st Thessalonians 5:18). Under the Old Covenant, the harvest festival was a feast of thanksgiving wherein the people of God recognized that all that they enjoyed came from the hand of God. (See Leviticus 23:9-14). Conversely, Paul reminds the Romans that the essence of rejecting God is a refusal to give thanks to him: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:21). Most of us are suburban or urban people. We don't harvest food, we shop for it. I had the privilege of serving a rural congregation for two years. There is a humility engendered by immediate dependence on a harvest. Agrarian people are easily reminded that in spite of the best of human ingenuity, we have yet to come up with a full proof way to make rain and guarantee a harvest. We urban and suburbanites need to see through price fluctuations (and our attendant blaming of the supermarket!) to realize that we too are dependent upon the blessing of God to secure a good harvest. Let us not take for granted the food that we enjoy.
When we think about giving thanks for the harvest, we at one and the same time are drawn to give thanks for Christ. The Apostle Paul speaks of Christ's resurrection as the first fruits of a harvest of many believers. In the Old Testament feast of the harvest, the saints would take a bundle of the first portion (the "first fruits") of the harvest and wave it before the Lord. This bundle (a "sheaf") represented the entire harvest. In fact, the bundle was part of the whole harvest. Christ's resurrection is of a piece with our own resurrection: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1st Cor 15:20-23).
What we know as two historical events or phases--the past resurrection of Christ and our future resurrection--the Bible presents as one entire event already securely accomplished by Christ, yet awaiting fulfillment in human history (it is "already, but not yet"). Our spiritual union with Christ in this life will be consummated by a physical union at the final resurrection. Then we will dwell together bodily with he Lord in a New Heaven and New Earth. Paul cannot celebrate this reality without noting that it will mark the end of our trials as well: the enemies of God, including our own sin, will be put to final end on that day: "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1st Cor 15:24-26).
So we have much for which to be thankful this coming Thursday. We are thankful for all that God allows us to enjoy in this life, and we are thankful that many more blessings have been secured for us in the life to come.
Below are two links that provide some information about Thanksgiving in the United States. The first is from the kid's site for National Geographic. While not robust in its presentation of the faith of our Puritan forefathers, this piece does accurately present many of the circumstances of the first thanksgiving celebration. Happily, the piece also counters the stereotype that these early Protestant settlers always wore black and were dreadfully somber! The second link is to Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving day proclamation. Lincoln's references to God's blessings, the country's sins, and the lack of triumphalism model the tone a national political leader ought to set for his people. Also, remember that we have a Thanksgiving Eve Service at 7:00PM.