Thanksgiving begins with hunger.
We usually don’t think of it this way, but it’s true.
Usually, we think of Thanksgiving in terms of abundance. We celebrate on this special day the goodness of God for the bountiful earth that brings forth fruit and vegetable in their season. We count our blessings as the table is piled high with turkey and all the trimmings, family and friends; food and football mingle together like giblets and gravy. It is the abundance of life – the good harvest, the horn of plenty that we think of and celebrate at Thanksgiving.
And yet, Thanksgiving begins with hunger, not with blessings. This was true as the Pilgrims gathered at Plymouth. They had only planted three crops in the spring of 1621: English peas, barely, and maize. However, as one person recorded, “our peas were not worth gathering-the sun had parched them and the barely was described as “indifferent”. Nothing much to have it. The only crop that made it was the twenty acres of maize which the natives had taught them to plant using herring as fertilizer. This maize, or corn, was not the abundant ears we’ve come to know and love. Instead, this maize was probably about 2 or 3 inches long with kernels of varying quality. Imagine preparing for a feast with only corn about the size of those little Chinese corn things you get at salad bars and you’ve just about pictured how it was when the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans over for the Thanksgiving feast that first winter. Some feast, huh?
Still, they gathered together and gave thanks. The Pilgrims knew what it was like to face hunger – to be physically hungry. When I say, though, that Thanksgiving begins with hunger I mean more than physical hunger. I’m also talking about the kind of hunger Jesus mentions when he says, “Blessed are those who hunger…who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Thanksgiving begins as we become aware of the hunger within us, the restlessness that pushes us forward in faith and life. It is out of this hunger that we come together to worship, to serve God and creation. It is this hunger for righteousness, for right relationships with God, with each other, and with ourselves, that motivates us to give thanks for what we have even as we hunger for more.
Without this hunger, God’s blessing becomes irrelevant. If we are not aware of the hunger inside us, we are not likely to come to the table of God’s grace. Instead, we become self-satisfied, complacent. We become like the man stuffed from a huge Thanksgiving meal who plops down in an easy chair, turns on a football game and tunes out all that’s going on around him. It is not bounty, but hunger that moves us to experience God’s blessing in a life of thanksgiving.
In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is cautioning the people Israel not to lose sight of where it is they come from. As you enter the land flowing with milk and honey, as you begin to experience the abundance of life, don’t forget how you got there. Don’t forget the God who delivered you from bondage, who carried you through the wilderness, and brought you to this land promised to your ancestors. Don’t lose sight of the hunger or who has satisfied your hunger when you become full.
Thanksgiving can be a time when our hunger is satisfied, around the kitchen table as well as around the table of grace. God satisfies the hunger of those crave God’s blessing of right relationships. Humorist Garrison Keillor writes a story of a Thanksgiving gathering in his family.
Thanksgiving begins with the hunger for righteousness, for right relationships, with God, with each other, and with yourself. Thanksgiving does not begin with abundance, with a horn of plenty, but with hunger, desire, for a cup of salvation poured out for the world; a broken loaf shared with all. A hunger for Christ, who satisfies, who alone nourishes us with the bread of heaven and satisfies our thirst with the cup of salvation.