We know the Pilgrim part of Thanksgiving, but I want to skip from that to over two centuries later during the Civil War.
The following year , [Abraham Lincoln designated a national day of thanksgiving “to render the homage due to the Divine Majesty for the wonderful things he has done in the nation’s behalf.” This proclamation gives us a glimpse into the attitude of Lincoln’s heart: “It is. . . right to recognize and confess the presence of the Almighty Father, and the power of his hand equally in these triumphs and his sorrows.”Thomas Freiling, “Have a Grateful Heart,” Walking With Lincoln
This echoes a proclamation Lincoln made early in his presidency, when he declared, “It is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God.” These statements reveal Lincoln’s firm belief in God’s ultimate control over every event, regardless of the hardships or circumstances. Because of Lincoln’s equally firm belief in God’s boundless mercy, his only response could be gratitude.
He designated a day of thanksgiving to give God “the homage due” to Him. He declared that it’s right to recognize and confess God’s presence, God’s power equally in triumphs and sorrows, God’s supreme command. . . Because of his firm belief in both God’s ultimate control and boundless mercy, “his only response could be gratitude.”
Okay. We understand that, right? We know that God deserves our praise, that God is in control, that God is merciful, that we have so-so-so much to be thankful for. And we especially try to praise God and be grateful around Thanksgiving. That’s what it’s for. . . right?
… Although this national holiday has remained one of the most distinctive of American traditions, few people observe it in the manner Lincoln intended. Read closely the original proclamation Lincoln issued on October 3, 1863:Thomas Freiling, “Have a Grateful Heart,” Walking With Lincoln
“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. These bounties are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come. No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gift of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. . . . And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience. . . fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation. (Italics added.)”
In October 1864 he renewed his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, urging his fellow citizens to “reverently humble themselves in the dust, and from thence offer up penitent and fervent prayers to the great Disposer of events for a return of the inestimable blessings of peace, union, and harmony throughout the land.” Thanksgiving Day was not originally set aside for celebration and overindulgence, but rather for people to humble themselves before “Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the universe,” and to intercede on behalf of the nation.
Thanksgiving. was. not. meant. for. partying! and lots of food! and family gatherings! and football! and whatever-Thanksgiving-traditions-you-have! Not saying all those things are necessarily wrong, but they weren’t Abraham Lincoln’s intent in establishing a National Day of Thanksgiving. Those things shouldn’t be the point.
The point of Thanksgiving should be, well, obviously, thanksgiving. Remembering our blessings. Praising God. Being thankful. But Lincoln also asked the people to humble themselves, to repent, to implore and intercede. . .
With the praise should be penitence.
We see how good God is, how much He has blessed us; we remember His faithfulness, His grace, His love. . . And it should humble us. We should realize how unworthy, how small, how graciously and lavishly dealt with we are. We should be sorry for our sins and intercede for others. There should be solemnity and reverence with the celebration.
The National Day of Mourning is on the same day as Thanksgiving. It has to do with Native Americans protesting Thanksgiving–basically “Unthanksgiving”–but. . . It just makes me think, especially with looking at what Lincoln said.
Sometimes thanksgiving and mourning go hand in hand.
While we give God the praise He rightly deserves and thank Him for the deliverances and blessings and mercies “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23), we also should repent of sin and ask God for forgiveness and healing. Often we have to offer a sacrifice of praise–choose to praise God even when life’s hard and not what we envisioned. Our hearts may be in the hands of the Father and Potter, but the heartstrings are still connected to us, so we feel the pain.
Thanksgiving and mourning, ya see?
This Thanksgiving, I pray that you will celebrate and repent, give thanks and mourn, and glorify God in it all.
Thank you for following along thus far! Only two more posts in this Thanksgiving series to go!