Thanks Be To God

Thanksgiving Day in the United States is not normally thought of as a religious holiday.  It isn’t on any official church calendars, and it is not associated with any specific scriptural events.  Nevertheless, the spiritual connection is clear. To whom do we direct our thanks?  The recipient is Almighty God, of course.

There have been quite a few special days of prayer and thanksgiving that have been declared by various political leaders in the history of our nation.  As every school child knows, the first one was celebrated in New England by the settlers of the Plymouth Colony.  There followed other officially declared days of thanksgiving, sometimes in the summer months instead of autumn.  The first national Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed on Thursday, November 28, 1782 by the United States Continental Congress.

Later, on October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation that began as follows:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’ Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”

Other presidents also declared special days of thanks occasionally after that.  Then in 1863, in the midst of civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday of November in appreciation of “the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”  Each president subsequent to Lincoln annually declared the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day, up until 1939.  That year there were five Thursdays in November, and President Roosevelt declared the fourth (not the last) one to be Thanksgiving.  Fred Lazarus, Jr., founder of the Federated Department Stores (later Macy’s), is credited with convincing Roosevelt to push Thanksgiving back a week to expand the shopping season.  Since then it was only a matter of time until football, eating and shopping managed to push most of the Thanks out of Thanksgiving.  In fact, people these days often refer to the holiday only as Turkey Day.

I hope that this year all of us can be more mindful of the original intentions for our national day of thanksgiving.  Thanks be to God.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

[See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_(United_States)].

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Ancient Fire Ritual

Since I have become more intentional about my study of the history of Christianity, I have begun to notice relevant bits of information that pop up in the secular media.  I found another example today.

Today’s Arizona Republic newspaper contains an article entitled “Ancient fire ritual lures Christians to Jerusalem”.   This annual ceremony to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus goes back at least 1200 years.  Thousands of Christians gather to light candles and torches from a flame that emerges from the tomb of Jesus at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  They then pass the flame to other pilgrims waiting outside the church, symbolizing the light of Christ spreading around the world.  This long-standing ritual, which I had never heard of before, apparently attracts a wide range of participants – from Palestinian Christians to international pilgrims to clerics from a variety churches.  This reminds me again of the unity within diversity that has characterized Christianity around the world and through the ages.

The article also revealed that this event yesterday coincided with Easter celebrations for the Eastern Orthodox churches and several others that celebrate Easter this week using the older Julian calendar.  So Happy Easter … again!

Easter

One of the high points of the Christian calendar is undoubtedly our celebration of Easter.  The resurrection of Jesus following his death for us is at the very core of our faith.

For the earliest Christians the Christian year centered on the Paschal (Easter) feast, a great commemoration of the the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Saint Ambrose of Milan referred to the three days starting with Good Friday as the the three most sacred days of Christian time.  This early emphasis on celebrating Christ’s resurrection stands in contrast with the relative lack of recognition of any kind of holiday for His birth.  Christmas became more important in later years.

There was some controversy among the early believers on when Jesus’ resurrection should be celebrated.  Finally, in 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine met with other church leaders and they decided that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  Most Christians have followed that calendar ever since.

Of course, Easter celebrations have not focused on Jesus alone for many centuries.  As Christianity spread to numerous peoples and cultures around the world, various pagan groups added in their own springtime and fertility observances.  Thus we now have Easter Bunnies and Easter Eggs to add to (or detract from?) this most meaningful of Christian holy days.

One web site I discovered with much more information on this topic is at

http://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/history-of-easter-faq.htm

Happy Easter!