All Saints, Cochrane

Creator of the fruitful earth, you made us stewards of all things. Give us grateful hearts for all your goodness, and steadfast wills to use your bounty well, that the whole human family, today and in generations to come, may with us give thanks for the riches of your creation. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, and grandma’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie. A very traditional Thanksgiving menu, at least for Western Canada. What kind of an image does that evoke? A well-decorated table? A large gathering of    family and friends?

For me growing up, a large family gathering was no more than eight people, and over time it dwindled so that two years ago, it was just myself and my uncle. This year will be five of us, with my brother and his wife, my uncle, and my fiancée.

This year will also be made different as I will have a second celebration in the United States with an even bigger family and for a day which isn’t quite as connected with the Canadian Harvest Thanksgiving which we celebrate today.

This all leads me to one question: what is thanksgiving?

Usually we would see it as an expression of gratitude. There is more to it than simple gratitude, though. There is an element of humility to thanksgiving that sits just below the surface. This element of acknowledging the other.

Giving Thanks for What?

Today, we have gathered to give thanks to God for his many blessings. We do so in the midst of a time that can bring with it a great deal of stress. Gathering families and friends together, making sure the details of the meal are perfect, who will bring what, who will sit where, and all the other details that are required to make a major event like this happen.

What does it mean to gather to give thanks for the fruit of the harvest and for God’s many other blessings? That should look different for everyone, because we all share in the fruit of the earth to greater or lesser degrees and none of us has received the same blessings and gifts from God as our neighbour. The point, however, is that these blessings come from God. No matter the stress, no matter the people, no matter how it’s done: God is the source of what we celebrate.

Scriptural Problem

Jesus points out that challenge of remembering God in our Gospel passage when he chastises the crowd. All the crowd seems to care about is what Jesus can give them, not what his miracles represent, nor is there any praising of God. Just requests for more bread.[1] The people had become so isolated from God that they just weren’t thinking of him.

This theme of people forgetting God echoes throughout Scripture. You can hear it in the Old Testament where the people have to be instructed to give thanks and remember God, because apart from a commandment in the law, they wouldn’t do it.

Problem Today

Today is really no different. It’s easy to become distracted from God and from gratitude.

One of the big challenges in our society is loneliness and isolation.[2]

Loneliness and isolation doesn’t just reflect distance between ourselves and others, but also distance that between ourselves and God.

This distance helps distract us from true gratitude.

When we are isolated from others, we might pridefully think we can provide for ourselves apart from anyone else.

Another problem we run into is envy. Buying into the images from popular media or even the pictures we see of our friends and neighbours, and become obsessed with trying to imitate their supposed perfection. When we aren’t really connected with others, it’s so much easier to be envious of what we see, rather than being able to enjoy and celebrate with others.

The Gospel’s Solution

After chastising the people for forgetting God, Jesus offers them the solution. If their problem is separation from God, the solution is intimate communion with him.

Jesus gives a new way to remember God, by being present with us in a new way, feeding us in a new way.

In the Gospel, the crowds say Moses gave them bread from heaven, and Jesus has to correct them, reminding them it came from God.[3] Jesus then says something truly profound, “I am the bread of life.”[4]

He is the bread which gives life to the world.[5] He is the intimate presence of God manifested to the world. A sign that God will never be far.

Today, we are gathered to receive that bread from heaven. That sign of God’s   comfort, presence, nearness, and love for us.

Conclusion

“The whole of the human condition is experienced between moments of glory, and moments of pain and grief, but the Gospel tells us that at no moment can we be separated from the love of God.”

No matter how isolated we feel, God is never far. No matter how much we feel we have done wrong, we are never beyond God’s forgiveness. He is always near to us, he has offered us a means to know him better, and to break down the isolation that separates us from God and from our brothers and sisters.

In the same way, some of us might have a picturesque family gathering planned, some of us may have a smaller gathering this year than in years past, with loved ones missing for one reason or another. Others might have a very quiet Thanksgiving this year.

No matter which it is, God is near to us.

Being grateful is something that requires just a bit of humility. Recognizing the other. As we gather at this Eucharist—itself meaning thanksgiving—we come into the presence of Christ. A reminder of how God sustains us and gives us life. In so doing, it becomes easier to show gratitude to God for the many blessings he gives us, and also for the blessings that God brings into our lives through all the people we know and love.

Remember God, and in doing so give thanks. Remember that he is never far. Remember the people he has brought into our lives. The food we eat to sustain our bodies. The fellowship we share with friends and family.

Gratitude can never be far when we remember that God is near.

[1] S. John vi. 26; S. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John 43.2

[2] https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/national-dealing-with-loneliness-1.4828017

[3] S. John vi. 30-32

[4] S. John vi. 35

[5] S. John vi. 33

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