What To Pray Over Thanksgiving Dinner

What To Pray Over Thanksgiving Dinner November 21, 2023

Pray over Thanksgiving
Image by 30726203 / Pixabay

I love Thanksgiving. It is by far my favorite holiday. Christmas can take a hike – I want to eat Thanksgiving turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce – give me Thanksgiving! Plus you have the great story of the Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal in peace. It seems that it’s the perfect holiday.

However, the last couple of decades have brought doubt on the actual story of Thanksgiving. The brutal nature of the Settlers is contrasted with kindness of the American Tribes. Growing up in New England, Thanksgiving felt very personal to me. Although my ancestors weren’t in the Colonies at this time, everywhere I looked I saw the paintings of Thanksgiving in real life.

As Americans struggle with our national history, many people feel the traditions are being stripped away. The older American generation grew up in a nation with a good record of doing good. Even the disaster of the Vietnam War couldn’t penetrate the walls of American Exceptionalism. My generation has a different view of the American Story. We tend to be more critical of the narrative we were taught about America. Millennials and younger want to hear and lift up the stories that have been unheard for centuries.

Although the new generations are thinking more about the unheard voices, I don’t want to lose the good things about Thanksgiving. I think the Church needs to give us an example of how to critique Thanksgiving while holding on to the good that it represents.

Thanksgiving Hypocrisy

As much as I love Thanksgiving, this holiday is the ultimate hypocrisy. A holiday that claims to promote our thankfulness of what we have – our abundance – has us on our heels. American Christianity talks a big game about being thankful, yet we consistently choose things that hoard our things for ourselves. Nothing screams hypocrisy like worshipping our true god – Capitalism – the day after telling ourselves that we are happy with what we have.

We can keep Thanksgiving, but we have to be honest. Our world is built on broken backs.  Our turkeys are caged and mistreated and the vegetables are grown unsustainably and harvested by underpaid hands. We thank God for what we have while voting in ways that keeps the poor and oppressed in their poverty. After all that, we rush to the store to buy things made by a child’s hand and rung up by a cashier who needs government assistance to make rent because their employer doesn’t pay them enough.

Pray Over Thanksgiving

One of my favorite American pastor’s is Walter Rauschenbusch. He preached in Hell’s Kitchen around the turn of the century and was influential in the Social Gospel movement. He advocated for the rights of workers and humanity, and saw meeting basic human needs as part of the Gospel.

Modernity is stuck in hypocrisy. Unless we sew our own clothes and grow our own food, we are sustained by suffering somewhere in the world. Even if you are fully self-sustaining, in America, the land has a bloody history. There is no escaping this reality, and the more we learn about our history, the more we learn about how we benefit from the suffering of others.

This Thanksgiving, let’s try to own our hypocrisy. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not there. Instead, I want to pray a prayer that is worthy of a God who suffers with Their people. This Thanksgiving, I chose the following prayer by Rauschenbusch:

“Our Father, thou art the final source of all our comforts and to thee we render thanks for this food. But we also remember in gratitude the many men and women whose labor was necessary to produce it, and who gathered it from the land and afar from the sea for our sustenance. Grant that they too may enjoy the fruit of their labor without want, and may be bound up with us in a fellowship of thankful hearts. O GOD, we thank thee for the abundance of our blessings, but we pray that our plenty may not involve want for others… But bless thou too that great family of humanity of which we are but a little part. Give to all thy children their daily bread, and let our family not enjoy its comforts in selfish isolation… If we have ever gained our bread by injustice, or eaten it in heartlessness, cleanse our life and give us a spirit of humility and love, that we may be worthy to sit at the common table of humanity in the great house of our Father.”
– Walter Rauschenbusch, For God and the People

Have a happy Thanksgiving – joyful, thankful, and aware of our responsibility to our neighbor.

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