Some form of Thanksgiving Observance has been part of the Episcopal Church’s worship life since its first Prayer Book of 1789 – with provision of special readings from Scripture and prayers for both Morning Prayer and the Holy Communion. Indeed, Thanksgiving Day alone was a National holiday officially honored with a Prayer Book service.
The background to American Thanksgiving Day is widely found on the Internet, but it is less commonly known that this commemoration was observed by various churches in our nation as a vital religious holiday until fairly recently. In our current secuarlizing era – to which many parts of the Church are rapidly falling victim – Thanksgiving has joined other observances formerly marked by liturgical worship that have become sterile “consumer events.”
The current Prayer Book’s observance remains rich, with a collect, readings, and appropriate prayers for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Holy Eucharist. Along with Independence Day (which had to wait until 1928 for the honor), this is one of our two “National Days” enshrined in the Calendar. Both Feasts can be very moving and helpful expressions of the best relationship between Church and State.
Perhaps one of the best additions to the Book of Common Prayer in 1979 was the new “General Thanksgiving,” found on p. 836. Together with the General Thanksgiving found at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer, this prayer serves as a helpful tool in rounding out our prayer life, giving due place for considering the various gifts from God – some welcome, some not – in our life. In many Episcopal Churches, Thanksgiving Day is the only time this new General Thanksgiving is publicly used, but it certainly bears use, and consideration, throughout the year in our personal prayers.
A good Thanksgiving Day practice is to go around the table and have each person offer one of the petitions, after which those present may share a way that petition speaks to us about a particular experience, thing, person, or idea for which we are thankful. All may then offer the simple “Litany of Thanksgiving” that follows.
Another way to observe this day is to help out in a feeding program in your community, and to make sure you consciously serve the guests at that meal as Christ himself, rather than as a duty, obligation, or (worst of all) a way to earn points with God or expiate one’s own guilt. Offering thanks for blessings and the opportunity to serve Christ would be a good mental practice in this situation or at any time.
Whatever your parish or personal observance, let Thanksgiving Day be a Feast Day in the deepest sense: a feast for the soul as much as a feast for the body. Today is a day to delight in the good things of the Creation, the enjoyment of which is “meet and right.” Indeed, we in a consumerist society must work much harder to enjoy things properly, as we have learned mostly only how to consume them rather than savor them as a gift from God to each one of us individually as well as to all corporately.
You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.
May your Thanksgiving challenge your understanding of gratitude and enjoyment in new ways, freeing you to “sing and rejoice and delight in God,” the giver of all good gifts.