Final Thanksgiving thoughts for 2017

 

Fall leaves and a path
An autumn walk among leaves (Wikimedia Commons public domain.)

 

First off, I want to express my gratitude for all of the good that so many of you do.  And particularly, today, I want to thank those who have been supportive of the Interpreter Foundation — as writers, donors, editors, media specialists, volunteers, and so forth.  I’m especially grateful to Bryce Haymond for the work he did, in remarkably short order, of designing our website and getting us up online and, for years, of running our online operations, and to Jeff Bradshaw, who supervised our journal’s weekly production until, when he and his wife were called to serve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission, Allen Wyatt assumed that relentlessly demanding responsibility.  Thanks to them, and to many others.  Without them, the Interpreter Foundation would be literally unable to function.

 

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A nice column from Taylor Halverson, who (among many other things) has contributed a number of articles and many helpful learning resources to Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture:

 

“How the Sacrament Ties Into Thanksgiving and Why This Holiday Should Remind Us of Our Covenants”

 

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The following item coheres neatly with the point that I made in the column to which I linked in “Thoughts for Thanksgiving (7).”  But it’s funnier:

 

“Atheist Prepares To Offer Heartfelt Thanks To Random, Uncaring Universe On Thanksgiving”

 

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Here’s a column that Bill Hamblin and I published in the Deseret News on the Saturday before Thanksgiving 2013:

 

American traditions of Thanksgiving are generally associated with Puritan harvest feasts in early colonial times, and particularly with the one in October 1621, when Chief Massasoit and about 90 other Native American men joined slightly more than 50 European immigrants at Plymouth Colony, in today’s Massachusetts, for a communal meal.  Abraham Lincoln’s formal proclamation of a late-November “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise” came just 150 years ago, in 1863.  However, religious festivals of thanksgiving associated with the agricultural cycle, thanking God for a bounteous harvest – essential to life through the winter — are much more ancient and universal, and can be found in most religious traditions of the world.  In ancient agrarian societies, where survival ultimately depended on rain and on the fertility cycles of local plants and animals, a failed harvest could swiftly bring widespread disaster and death.  Accordingly, a bountiful harvest was received with gratitude.  

 

The sacrifices and festivals of ancient Israel were likewise fundamentally linked to the annual seasons of planting and reaping.  One of their sacrifices was actually called the “thanksgiving” (Hebrew “todah”).  As described in Leviticus 7:11-15, the thanksgiving offering was an entire meal, including fried cakes, bread and meat.  Furthermore, it was commanded that “the flesh of the sacrifice of the peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day that it is offered.”  That is, the ancient Israelite thanksgiving sacrifice was a sacred feast, a meal in which the food offerings were symbolically shared with God but were literally eaten by the sacrificer.  In ancient Israel, such a “holiday feast”—as we now describe it—was actually a “holy-day feast.”

 

One of the fundamental psalms sung by the Levite choir each day at the temple was “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever” (Psalms 106, 107, 118, 136, 138; 1 Chronicles. 16:7, 34, 23:30; 2 Chronicles. 5:13, 7:6; Nehemiah 12:8).  One could enter the Israelite temple only if one “entered the gates with thanksgiving” (Psalms 100:4 95:2).  Psalm 50 describes the characteristics of the “thanksgiving sacrifice” (50:15): “he who offers thanksgiving (Hebrew “todah”) glorifies me” (50:23; cf. Psalm 116:17).  When Jeremiah prophesied of the future restoration of Jerusalem and its temple, which was to come following the Babylonian captivity, he predicted that the returning Jews would “bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:26), singing “songs of thanksgiving” (Jeremiah 30:19).  Jeremiah likewise prophesied that in Jerusalem should again be heard “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride . . . as they bring the thanksgiving sacrifice (Hebrew “todah”) into the House of the Lord” (Jeremiah 33:11).

 

In the New Testament, Christ is twice described as giving thanks in the context of a sacred meal.  At the feeding of the 5000, he took the loaves and fish and, “having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds” (Matthew 15:36; Mark 8:6; John 6:11).  In the old Israelite thanksgiving sacrifice, the people were to bring food to the temple and give it to the priests, who would then offer it to God.  Now, in a paradoxical reversal of the old order, Christ, as God incarnate, brings the food, offers thanks, and gives it to his apostle-priests who then offer it to the people.  The old order of the thanksgiving offering is thus reversed.

 

The same reversal of roles is found at the Last Supper, where, at the Passover dinner, Jesus gives thanks and shares a sacred meal with his apostles (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1 Corinthians 11:24).  Christ’s atoning sacrifice has thus become a “thanksgiving offering.”  Although in the Latter-day Saint tradition we tend to call our commemoration of the Last Supper the “sacrament,” in ancient Christianity it was referred to as the Eucharist— the “thanksgiving”.  This is because Christ is described as having “given thanks” at the Last Supper—in Greek, “eucharistesas.”  (Still today, the modern Greek equivalent of “thank you” is “efkharisto.”)  Thus, for Latter-day Saint Christians, the sacrament is our commemoration of the archetypal thanksgiving sacrifice and meal of ancient Israel, of which our modern Thanksgiving holiday is only a pale shadow.  Appropriately, too, for many Americans Thanksgiving kicks off the serious holiday season that culminates in Christmas, which recalls God’s greatest gift to us, his Son.

 

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Finally, a favorite poem by a favorite poet — “Hurrahing in Harvest,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins — fitted, more or less, to this Thanksgiving season:

 

SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
  Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
  Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
 
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,        5
  Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
  And, éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
 
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
  Majestic—as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!—        10
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
  Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
  And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

 

It’s not a particularly easy poem.  Hopkins’s poetry is never particularly easy.  But it’s quite nice once you understand it.

 

Here are two short explanations of the poem, the first considerably more useful than the second:

 

“Hurrahing in Harvest: Hopkins Sees God in Nature”

 

“Themes in Hurrahing in Harvest”

 

 

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