Thanksgiving in my memory was always a wonderful holiday.
There was, of course, the food served around 2pm. Turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing (as we called the stuffing), cranberry sauce (the jellied kind and her own recipe with whole cranberries), celery, carrots, yams (or sweet potatoes), sometimes creamed corn, peas and pearl onions, and some other things that have escaped me. When we were little, she made elaborate dinners. Then she realized all we were eating was turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dressing, so she simplified.
And then there were leftovers that night, including sandwiches of turkey, lettuce, dressing, and cranberry sauce.
Sometime in the next few days there was turkey noodle soup.
Along with all this eating there was as I remember it, the ceremony. Now that I recall, that wasn’t always so great because it involved slicing up the turkey, which I hated to do. But the rest of the day was the ceremony of doing the same thing year after year.
As we got older, somehow, Grace Before Meals, got left out most nights, but never on Thanksgiving.
In elementary school, the teachers made this a very special holiday. There was almost always some play or presentation involving the Pilgrims and the Indians, all sitting at a long table. The color of the classrooms changed from season to season, and at Thanksgiving they were orange, yellow, brown, some black, all mirroring the leaves and vegetation that had just disappeared.
And of course, we got Friday off…all through school and into my working days.
Those are my memories. And the routine has persisted up to the last few years. All except for the ceremonies and the meaning of the day.
It was just recently that I found out that Native Americans, especially the New England tribes of today, observe a day of sadness. Those wonderful stories that we were taught in school were mostly false and papered over the terrible wrongs inflicted on the Native Americans of that time.
Of course, it is still a national holiday. Great feasts are still held among families and friends. And mostly the story of the “Pilgrims” and the “Indians” is ignored, now to be celebrated by Black Friday.
But there remains the unsettling knowledge that the more we know, the more our world shifts from under us.
Jesus implied this in his message to the Pharisees and his disciples in today’s Gospel. We think we know the story. We want to find out when it’s going to happen and what we will see. We wait for the holiday, but that is a time in the future and really has no meaning. Because the holiday is already here. And those stories we’ve been telling each other may be completely wrong.
“The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’
For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
The Thanksgiving we are waiting for cannot be observed as well. It is here among us, but we are looking at it the wrong way.
But why would Jesus tell this lesson? I think today’s reading from Paul might hold an answer. Instead of ordering Philemon and the others of the Colossian church to take Onesimus, a slave converted by Paul, back among them not as a slave but as a brother, he asks them to do it of their own accord. Truly a revolutionary concept at that time. As Jesus does not demand obedience, but talks in parables, nor does Paul force his will upon his followers.
And maybe that’s what we are being called to do on this Thanksgiving. Yes, we have our memories. I hope yours are as positive as mine are. But also, we have the real teaching of Jesus to instruct and guide us.
Thanksgiving for us should not, and cannot, be a celebration of the past and of our conquering of the New World and conversion of the savages. But it can be a day for us to give thanks to God, as Native Americans do each day in their understanding of our existence.
Perhaps this day should be a day when we stop all our running in pursuit of…of what? Perhaps we should not be looking for…for what? Perhaps this day should really be a day to give thanks to God for the blessings that surround us each day and everywhere.
Lord, help us remember the Alleluia of today’s Mass:
I am the vine, you are the branches, says the Lord:
whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.