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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Glory! Amen! Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day - November 28, 2019
Old Christ Church, Laurel, DE

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . .”

How blessed are we on Thanksgiving Day to be in this church which was built in 1771 and consecrated in 1772?   

The first Thanksgiving we are told was actually an autumn harvest celebration when the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians gathered at Plymouth, Massachusetts. That was in November of 1621. 

The version of the Book of Common Prayer we’re using today was written in 1789, just 18 years after this church was built and consecrated.

If you’ve done the math, that first autumn festival we now call Thanksgiving was 358 years ago. 

And, the Book of Common Prayer we’re using today is 230 years old. 

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but remember that we’re praying in a church that is 248 years old.

That’s all pretty astounding, don’t you think?

So, I don’t know about you, but it’s a bit of a jolt to hear Jesus talk about things that perish. We could easily be convinced sitting here in the midst of history, that some earthly things last – well, maybe not forever but clearly for a long, long time. Longer than any one of us sitting here will live to see, despite the miracles of modern science which keep us living long and well and well beyond the expiration date of our original warranty.

We’ve gotten pretty good about parts replacements – knees, shoulders, hips. Some of us have even had major work like valves and plumbing and electricity. But, death eventually comes to call all of us to be back home with the One who created us, even though buildings like this remain.

Although, if you look around, you’ll see unmistakable signs of wear and tear to this wonderful old church. 

Indeed, the leadership of this church will soon be launching a capital campaign to raise funds to make some well-needed repairs.

With that in mind, the words of Jesus make a little bit more sense, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . . .”.

I suppose it is human nature to underestimate or not even realize the value of something until you have lost it – or are in danger of losing it.

Nothing brings home the sense of our own mortality better than the death of someone we know and love. After a loss, we tend to hold our loved ones a bit closer, visit or call a bit more often, linger a bit over conversations, be a bit more generous in spirit.

You may also find that you become a bit more grateful. For little things. For seemingly insignificant things. You may stop to feel the sun on your face and then notice how beautiful it is in November when the wind blows the steel-grey clouds across a pale blue sky and you hear the crackling sound of the dry leaves twirling in frenetic eddies on the ground.

It is months like October, November and December that make us appreciate the warmth and beauty of the months of June, July and August. Eventually though, we come to appreciate each of the four seasons as entities unto themselves and we are grateful for the blessings provided in each.

But it is in the month of November that our gratitude for all that God has provided reaches its peak. I’m sure that was especially so for our forebears in Plymouth, MA 358 years ago as they found themselves immigrants, facing their first winter in a strange land.

Nothing lasts forever. Not our bodies. Not buildings. And, if we keep ignoring our environment and polluting the earth, neither will this planet. So, we are faced with a choice: We can ignore it and travel blithely through this earthly plane until our time comes to an end, or we can learn to pay attention to and appreciate and care for the incalculable beauty and wonder that surround us.

Those of us who choose to pay attention will quickly find our way into the middle of the middle of a deep abiding sense of gratitude. We will find that we are compelled to give thanks not just on one day but every day. In The Episcopal Church, we celebrate Eucharist every Sunday. Eucharist is derived from the Greek word for Thanksgiving in which we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God who is the source and ground of being and creator of all. Our focus is not on food that perishes, but our focus is on Jesus, “the food that endures for eternal life . . .”

There is something author Annie Dillard wrote about gratitude in “The Waters of Separation,” the last chapter of her book, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” that finds its way back to me this time of year.
"I think that the dying pray at the last not "please," but "thank you," as a guest thanks his host at the door. Falling from airplanes the people are crying thank you, thank, you, all down the air; and the cold carriages draw up for them on the rocks. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy and fleet. There is nothing to be done about it, but ignore it, or see... And like Billy Bray I go my way, and my left foot says "Glory," and my right foot says "Amen" : in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise."
Glory! Amen! Glory! Amen!
If I could give you one lasting image of the essence of this day when we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, it would be these words of Annie Dillard and this image of walking not just through this day but through all of life, our left foot saying Glory and right foot saying Amen. 

For Jesus teaches us,  
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life . .. . . Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
As we move through this life, in the midst of our dance of joy and praise and thanksgiving, perhaps we might remember this Old Rabbi’s prayer (from  Rebecca Dwight Bruff, in her book, Loving the World with God.)

Days pass and years vanish, we walk sightless among miracles.
God, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing.
Let there be moments when your presence, like lightning, 

illumines the darkness in which we walk.
Help us to see wherever we gaze that the bush burns unconsumed.
And we, clay touched by God, will reach out in holiness and exclaim in wonder,
“How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it!”


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