The storybook version of the first Thanksgiving is beautiful. It includes smiling pilgrims who politely ask the Native Americans for help surviving in a foreign land. In this version of the story, the Native Americans are all too happy to help, patiently demonstrating their own techniques for hunting local game as well as planting and harvesting crops. The still-smiling settlers graciously accept the Native Americans’ instruction and say a nice, big, warm ‘thank you’ by inviting all of the tribe members to a giant dinner that miraculously looks a lot like the food that will grace our tables this November 28.
But this, my friends, is quite a stretching of the truth.
The first settlers almost certainly weren’t smiling that much. Roughly 100 settlers left England on the Mayflower and landed on the shores of Massachusetts in late December 1620. Between the bitter cold, disease, and starvation, less than half of those original settlers survived that first winter. Today, historians are still unsure as to how or why those English settlers ended up forming a relationship with the Wampanoag tribe, but we do know that it was a relationship that ended up saving the lives of those remaining settlers. We know that it started off turbulently with seemingly-unprovoked attacks that originated on both sides. Eventually, a tenuous peace treaty was reached between the settlers and the Wampanoag, and they agreed to aid one another when the need arose.
That first Thanksgiving meal almost certainly looked vastly different than the meal we all sit down to today. But the most important point – the point that we do still celebrate today – is that they indeed did gather. The remaining settlers sat down for a 3-day harvest celebration with roughly 90 members of the Wampanoag tribe. Thinking of this image, I can’t help but be reminded of one of Jesus’ more interesting parables:
Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. … So the slave returned and reported to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lands of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ~ Luke 14:16-18a, 21-24.
I imagine this table to look a lot like the table of those first settlers and the Wampanoag. The feast table that Jesus describes in the parable is full of people drawn from all over. They’ve been called to fill the seats. They’ve gathered because suddenly there is food where they may have had none. They’ve gathered because they’ve been given the chance to be in the presence of others instead of being alone. Those seated at the table have come from different walks of life. They probably speak different languages, wear different clothes, and customarily eat different foods. And yet they have found themselves celebrating together at this beautiful feast.
Think about what it’s like around your family Thanksgiving table. There are multiple conversations buzzing at various points along the table. There is laughter. There are declarations of satisfaction. “This food is so good!” “I’m so full!” “I couldn’t eat one more bite … except for that piece of pecan pie.” Maybe there are children running around, giggling and playing. Maybe there’s a football game on in the background. There’s a warmth in the room – a warmth that touches both your body and your heart. You are in the presence of those whom you love, reliving old memories and making new ones, thankful for old blessings and new ones, nurturing old relationships and maybe even making some new ones.
Friends, as we find ourselves caught up in all the preparations for our own Thanksgiving feasts this year, I encourage you to remember that another table has been set for us – a table infinitely grander and more satisfying than the greatest Thanksgiving table you’ve ever seen. This table will look a lot like our family thanksgiving tables, but it will also look like the table of the Plymouth settlers and Wampanoag. We can relive old memories and make new ones. We can be thankful for old blessings and new ones. We can nurture old relationships and make new ones. But most importantly, we will be honoring and participating in the greatest relationship of all – our relationship with Almighty God.
Information pertaining to Plymouth Colony and first Thanksgiving from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plymouth_Colony