Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in the Church

I had a disquieting experience last Sunday. The church I attend had its Thanksgiving meal after service, and I remarked to a few friends that it was fitting to celebrate Thanksgiving in a church, considering that "Eucharist" means "thanksgiving." I was astonished to find they did not know that. They weren't ignorant, really, though I suspect a Catholic or Orthodox would've been better informed.

So what does it matter? Much or little, depending on your view. It could be regarded as trivia; I've already written about a case of trivializing the Eucharist, and I doubt most Evangelical Protestants would even notice the problem. But even they would likely admit that Thanksgiving alone isn't as good as Thanksgiving with family and friends.

But thanksgiving is an important feature of the Christian life. I suspect if we were truly thankful for the Atonement, we would take the Eucharist more seriously. We have forgotten that ingratitude was involved in the first sin: would Adam and Eve have considered disobeying God if they had been truly grateful for all he had given them? Wasn't ingratitude the hallmark of the Israelites who grumbled against Moses and God?

The holiday season creates special problems. In the US, Thanksgiving leads into the Christmas season, and all the partying hinders proper focus. Are we really thankful now? Will we really focus on preparing ourselves for Advent? Probably not.

Perhaps we could learn from the Catholics and especially the Orthodox. They have a fast before their main feasts (Easter and Christmas), so by the time the feast arrives, they feel proper anticipation. If we did that, all the noise about the commercial aspect of Christmas would wither up: the consumerist orgy probably couldn't survive a good fast.

Or at the very least we could wait until the proper time. Christmas parties begin early in December. What if we followed the older route and waited until Christmas itself? The Christmas season used to run twelve days--from Christmas through Epiphany. That's enough time for some good parties, and as children know, the anticipation is half the fun. Patience produces gratitude, and both should be welcome in the church.

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