The Standard November 24, 2022
Today many of us are gathering with family and friends to join in giving thanks for God’s overwhelming provision. Despite the numerous difficulties we have faced as a nation the past few years, most of us have daily food and a warm place to sleep. Life had not been free from trouble for the women and men whose celebration we now commemorate.
The first Thanksgiving took place in the autumn of 1621 when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians celebrated the Plymouth Colony’s first successful harvest. In September of 1620, one hundred and two passengers had set sail from Plymouth, a port on the southern coast of England, to travel to the New World on a merchant ship called the Mayflower. Only fifty-three of these early settlers survived until that first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims who made it through the first winter did so in no small part thanks to help from the Native Americans who taught them how to hunt and to fish and which crops would thrive in Massachusetts soil. Beans, corn and squash or “The Three Sisters,” came to form the cornerstone of the New England diet. The Wampanoag Tribe aided the Pilgrims in storing up plenty of food to sustain them through the coming winter. Like many parts of history, the story of future colonists and Native Americans is fraught with extremely regrettable actions. This first Thanksgiving, however, was a happy occasion.
Nearly forty of the one hundred and two Mayflower passengers were Protestant Separatists who were seeking religious freedom and who were hoping to establish a new church in America. Like the Puritans they wanted to worship God as they wished, and objected to many aspects of the Church of England. Unlike the Puritans, who sought to reform from within, the Pilgrims desired a complete break from that established church. These Separatist Calvinists used the Geneva Bible, whose divisions of the Scriptures into numbered verses were the first in the English language. Even their form of government attested to their faith. Forty-one men signed the Mayflower Compact, promising submission and obedience to the terms of a civil body politic, “having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant” a new colony. These Christians were profoundly aware of God’s providential care.
As their Governor William Bradford put it, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.” Like these early settlers we too acknowledge God’s grace on our behalf. Today we give thanks, remembering the many wonders God has done.
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100:1-5)
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced. (Psalm 105:1-5)