The Rev. Canon W. Bruce McPherson
Hear again the word of God as it is written in the book Deuteronomy:
“Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own
hand have gotten me this wealth,’ But remember the Lord your God,
for it is he who gives you power” (Deut. 8:8). Remember.
Well, by now most of the leaves have fallen, been picked up and
forgotten, though there is an oak tree in front with a few leaves
clinging for dear life. The pumpkins have been carved, lit, and thrown
away. School routines have grown old and winter is just around the
corner. But there is one more ritual to be observed. And the children
were very excited to know that they and their parents would be off soon
on a pilgrimage. They would travel to that place that their parents
For their part, the parents weren’t altogether happy with this.
There was work to do. There was traffic to fight. They had to find
someone to feed the cat. And there was food to prepare as a thank
offering. But then the suitcases were loaded into the car, and the
bikes affixed to the back, and they were off.
Every Thanksgiving, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, children and
grandchildren, get together to tell exaggerated stories to ermines, to
laugh, to argue, and to eat. Regardless of the rest of it, they always
eat. They’re pulled in some mysterious way to that place which would
always be home. Once they’re on the road, everybody’s enthusiasm picked
up a bit because they were on their way to that holy place, that holy
place where they had been given life.
But their eagerness was nothing compared with the old woman who
waited for them there. Her children were coming home. Each year that
seemed much more important as she waited for that avalanche of love that
was part of every Thanksgiving. It relieved her life from the
loneliness that had become her companion, and she laughed aloud every
time she thought about it.
We, you see, are a pilgrim people. In our wandering we become
scattered. We go seeking our fortunes alone, chasing the God of
self-fulfillment. We like our freedom. But we long for home. For all
our fierce independence, for all our pleasure seeking, all of our
successes, there remains an emptiness that can only be filled when we
And there is the one who waits for us with eager anticipation. She
suffers as her children wander off seemingly aimlessly and become
divided. Nothing pains her more than when her love, the love that
created them, is rejected, or worse, ignored by them. Yet they do
return. The memory of that love wins out, and they come back if only
for a time.
Sometimes when we, children of God, gather together, God’s joy is
The banging of car doors, the screaming of children announce their
arrival. They each brought their favorite food, and they brought it to
share with the rest of the family. There were pies and sweet potatoes
and different kinds of bread, all brought from different kitchens to be
shared here. The smell of cooking turkey was all over the house, and
the old woman thought it might never finish cooking–so many people
insisted on opening the oven door to take a peek.
The children brought their favorite games to share with the others.
There were children and grandchildren and even one very, very small,
great great grandchild, to carry on the family name.
The children were hungry, of course, so the bell was rung, and the
word was passed that “it was time.” Chairs of different sizes and
heights were brought from everywhere in the house, and wouldn’t you know
it, the smallest child got the shortest chair. But the problem was
quickly solved with a few phone books. There’s always, you see, always
a place for the little ones at the Thanksgiving table.
They gather around this long table and each of their offerings was
lovingly placed upon this family altar. The loaves of bread were there
to be cut, and the jams and relishes to be tasted, and all that was
spread about, was now broken open for sharing.
And the gathered family members began to share themselves. They
began to tell stories of the things that had happened to them since the
last time. Some, in the interest of looking successful, only talked
about the good things. And that with some embellishment, no doubt. But
most shared the good with the not so good. There wasn’t time for
everything, but they did share the most important morsels, the bits and
pieces of life that change us.
We pilgrim people of God are always careful to reserve places for the
little ones. In fact, the weak and the powerless are the ones
especially welcomed to the family table because it is the essence of the
divine family to hold the helpless and carry the cross for the
crucified. We gather at Thanksgiving with our hearts and our minds,
open to embrace the wounded and hungry of the family, and of the world.
We bring our offerings and share ourselves around the table that is a
table for all humanity.
God’s table always has room for everyone.
Well, the designated carver was Uncle. It wasn’t clear that he was
all that good with the carving knife, but he thought he was, and that
earned him the job. The old woman took a plate, put some white meat on
it, then passed it to sister who put on the sweet potatoes, then to
brother who added the sauerkraut, and on and on and on. Each person took
a plate, put something on it, and passed it to the next person. When
they were finished, the turkey was in ruins, the sweet potatoes almost
gone, and the cranberry sauce reduced to a little lump on a dish. In
fact, every offering that had been so carefully put on the table was
nearly gone. The plates, however, were full. The loaves of bread and
the rest had to be broken in order to be shared.
The people of God break bread together regularly, as you know,
whether at Eid-al-Fitr, which is the Feast breaking the Ramadan Fast, or at a
Seder Table, or at a Eucharistic Feast. The pilgrim people of God know
that they are only fulfilled when the gifts they have been given are
shared with others. The people of God know that they are only made whole
by the power of a God who invites us to share with others as God has
shared with us.
Now, as the last dish was being passed and the children dug into
their drumsticks, and just as cousin was beginning to tell a joke,
someone shouted out, “Hey, we forgot to say grace. Who’s going to say
grace?” Down at the end of the table, one of the teenagers said,
“Grace,” and everyone chuckled a little. Someone asked, “Why do we call
it grace?” Uncle, who had studied dead languages in college said, “It
comes from the Latin word gratia, which means ‘thanksgiving.’” And
before the conversation went any further, the old woman in a tone that
was quietly serious and strong said, “I’ll say the grace.”
Now the old woman was not known for the brevity of her prayers. The
children began to fidget right away, and the men took to examining their
fingernails as they began to realize they might not get to see the
opening kick-off of the game for which they were waiting. The old woman
seemed to have no sense of time. Her prayers just went on and on and
Moses said that life and breath and energy to draw it are all gifts
given by God for which we must be grateful. He commanded the people to
take time and remember their past, and give thanks to God for manna with
which God had fed them. Jesus commanded his Disciples to remember the
meal they had shared in the Upper Room. He asked them to give thanks in
the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the wine. We remember
and obey that command in a meal called Eucharist, another word that
I’m not entirely sure why the old woman’s grace was so long. Perhaps
it takes time to appreciate exactly what it is exactly that one has been
given. It could be that her grace was long because she was finally and
fully aware of all that she had and had lost. Every Thanksgiving, she
said at the end of the table, hanging on to every word that was said,
just like the leaves on that oak tree hanging on its branch. Around her
were gathered the young and the very young, and it didn’t really matter
to her who was the A+ student and which ones struggled. In fact she
seemed to prefer the wisdom of the strugglers to the foolishness of the
wise. The old woman remembered her own youth when time was on her
side. She remembered when she could drive without worrying when she
could read the small print in the newspaper and put her own children to
bed with a story and a prayer. You see, she had taken the bread of life
and broken it and shared it and given it away in order that she and
those she loved might be made whole. Perhaps that’s why her grace was
so long. Perhaps it was the memory of all the good that was hers. For
example, she was always amused to hear her children argue with their
children about how much hair they should have and where it should be.
And she laughed when she heard her daughters complain about their
daughters and what they wore and what they didn’t wear. I suppose
when you stand naked and alone and your hair gets thinner day by day,
any hair and any clothing seem like the greatest of gifts.
Consider, for example, the lilies of the field. They don’t make
their own clothes, nor do they shop at Nordstrom’s. Yet even Solomon in
all his glory was not so well dressed.
I’m not sure why it is, but some of us sit down at the table, take
the break of life, break it open, pass it on, and do not pause to say
grace, to give thanks. I’m not sure why some seem heedless while others
hang on every moment. I suspect it has to do with the way we remember.
The memory, you see, helps us know who we are, and what we have been
given, and what we have lost and how precious life really is.
And that is why our Thanksgiving pilgrimage is always a pilgrimage
home. For it is at home that we mature and grow and remember. Wherever
home may be for each of us, there is always waiting there for us someone
who has given us everything, the one to whom we must be truly grateful.
Thanks be to God at whose table we are fed, who gives us our
memories, and nourishes us with our hope.
Thanks be to God.