As Americans, it’s easy for us to become confused and think that the first Thanksgiving meal occurred between Refugee Pilgrims and Native Americans somewhere close to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. But as Christians, we know of a much earlier Thanksgiving meal between Jesus’ disciples and about five thousand men, besides women and children, somewhere only known as a deserted place! Instead of a Turkey with various trimmings occupying the centerpiece of the table, bread and fish were served in picnic-style on the ground surrounded by circles of people. But perhaps the most significant difference between the American version of the First Thanksgiving and the REAL First Thanksgiving was this: instead of refugee pilgrims and Native Americans blessing the gifts of food brought to share, Jesus himself took, blessed, broke and gave those first gifts of food. And that made all the difference! We continue this tradition when we pray “give us this day our daily bread.”
Take a moment to read the whole REAL story of the First Thanksgiving for yourself as found in Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV):
Now when Jesus heard [that King Herod sent and had John the Baptist beheaded in prison], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.”
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Now just like Jesus and the disciples, we can find ourselves desiring to remove ourselves to a deserted place. Whether it’s mourning the loss of a loved one (such as was the case with the death of John the Baptist), or needing some downtime from the added stress of the North Bay Fires and its aftermath, or from the breakneck speed of bad news coming our way regarding mass shootings and terrorist attacks on our shores, it seems that this would be just a good time to retreat. Yet, it was exactly a time such as this when Jesus turned to his disciples and, in what could only be called an advanced stewardship and discipleship moment, said to them about those who desired to be connected with God: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
The message about discipleship that seems to be coming through clearly from this story is that the call to give never comes at a convenient time; that the gift, however large or small, when put in Jesus’ hands, will be multiplied in unimaginable ways; and that our scarcity perspective gives way in God’s economy to baskets of abundance as our gifts are placed in service to others.
I hope I can count on your participation in the celebration of this REAL story of the First Thanksgiving by bringing your Estimate of Giving Cards to Sunday’s worship on November 26th as we reenact the original ceremony of The First Thanksgiving!
– Pastor Lee Neish
Scripture quotations from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.