By giving thanks and grieving

Judy Maurer offers a powerful Thanksgiving reminder for us in this morning’s Fruit of the Vine. That first celebration, remembered in history and commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday in November, probably didn’t feel much like the meal most of us anticipate. There was feasting. But that feast came at the end of what had been called “the great dying” by the Wampanoag. From 1616 to 1619, this and other coastal tribes “had lost 50 to 90 percent of their people due to yellow fever or perhaps the plague – spread by European fishermen and traders.” Then, in that first spring after 102 pilgrims came ashore, half of them “were dead of starvation.”

Judy points out that “only Edward Winslow mentions what has come to be known as Thanksgiving: ‘At which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us ... whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation.’” At the time of this reported feast, “only one family among the pilgrims had not lost at least one family member” and “Tisquantum (Squanto) was the sole survivor of his native village. There were many to grieve.”

It was a dark time.

Judy writes that she has friends for whom this will be “the first Thanksgiving since my husband (or wife or mother or sister) died. I just don’t want to ruin it all, remembering.” Others may have other griefs or pain they’re bearing, and our inclination is toward guilt. We don’t want to ruin the joy of a shared meal, of our time together.

Judy reminds us that we “are not ruining Thanksgiving by remembering. [We] are celebrating it the way it should be celebrated – by giving thanks and grieving.”

Psalm 126:5 offers a frame: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.” Judy also offers this prayer: “Lord, we know you have our loved ones in your arms now. Comfort us until we come into your presence as well. Accept our grief as recognitions of their lives as a gift from you.”

Eric Muhr