The first time I remember singing the hymn of Thanksgiving, “Come Ye Thankful People Come,” written by Henry Alford, was at our eighth-grade Thanksgiving program for our parents back in 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated.
The girls in the class sang it as a choir number. Of course, it was not a very big choir, since there were only about 10 students in the entire class. I recall we had an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the program.
We shared our essays and stories of Thanksgiving – and at the end of the program, we had a benediction.
No one was offended or threatened to sue. Everyone removed their hats and stood for the pledge. They bowed their heads in reverence for the prayers and said “Amen” at the close. The sweet spirit of God was present, almost like a church meeting.
My, how things have changed. I have often wondered how we, as a nation, have slipped so far away from our Christian heritage in so short a time.
We now feel threatened if we speak of God. Thanksgiving has become Turkey Day, where our thoughts are more about the pumpkin pie than our blessings. We have forgotten the message of the Thanksgiving hymn:
Come Ye Thankful People Come
Come, ye thankful people, come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All is safely gathered in,
Ere the winter storms begin;
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come;
Raise the song of harvest home.
We ourselves are God’s own field,
Fruit unto his praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown
Unto joy or sorrow grown;
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
Grant, O harvest Lord, that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come,
And shall take the harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offences purge away,
Giving angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store
In the garner evermore.
Then, thou Church triumphant come,
Raise the song of harvest home.
All be safely gathered in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified,
In God’s garner to abide;
Come, ten thousand angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest home.
Where are those “thankful people?” They sit around staring at phones and tablets, smelling the aroma of the feast being prepared. Many don’t even know what a harvest is. Their food came from the shelves laden with brightly colored bags, cans and boxes.
Their fruits and vegetables are picked from bins where only the freshest and the best are displayed, while the rest is tossed.
These “thankful people” don’t give a thought to the Pilgrims who shivered in the dead of winter on the shores of a strange foreboding land. They have forgotten the bodies of the precious children and women who were placed in frozen graves or cast into the billowing deep.
They don’t remember those who watched their plants grow under the tutelage of their Native American friends, praying that they would survive and flourish at the harvest. They don’t remember the great joy of a feast prepared in remembrance of the blessings of God on a choice and blessed land.
They don’t remember how brown faces and white faces bowed together in humble prayer and thanksgiving for the harvest that would save them from starvation in the winter months ahead.
These modern “thankful people,” as they scroll through the eye-candy on their cellphones, smelling the spicy delight of apple pie, don’t give a thought to the white crosses that march across the hills and valleys of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
They don’t remember those who signed sacred documents that bought our freedom from oppression and gave us the right to gather around our overfilled tables sparkling with silver and fine china.
The “thankful people” of today have never shivered in the snow. They have always slept in a warm bed with thermostatic comfort surrounding them and always had a refrigerator full of food and microwave awaiting their beck and call.
These “thankful people” have never fought hand-to-hand on a battlefield where the goal was to keep the banner of freedom flying at all costs. They have never watched the bullets fly and seen the standard-bearer sink to the ground.
They have never picked up Old Glory, knowing they would be the target of the next bullet. They have never stood to raise the flag over a hill where thousands of bodies mark the trail of their ascent to the crest of the hill.
They have never held the child of the enemy in their arms and recognized that this child is no different from the child they left behind in their sweetheart’s arms.
The “thankful people” who sit during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem have never huddled in the enemy’s prison gathering scraps of red, blue and white cloth to make a flag in order to help fellow prisoners remember what they are living and dying for.
They have never been beaten for making the flag and watched it burn to ashes, and the next day began to gather scraps again because hope in freedom was all they had left.
Are those who shoot police officers, stomp on police cars and burn others’ buildings thankful people? Have they never sat in a church contemplating the infinite sacrifice of Jesus Christ?
He was the one who, after being beaten and crowned with thorns, hung on the cross and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Unthankful people have never read the story of the blind being restored to sight or the deaf regaining their hearing. They have never heard the parable of the Prodigal Son or the Sheep and the Goats. They have never heard of people being raised from the dead or the lame being able to leap and walk.
They have never considered the possibility of a resurrection and eternal life. They have only watched virtual figures on a video game where life and death is a matter of the game, not a matter of eternal significance.
Therefore, these once thankful people have lost their ability to be thankful. They have not been taught, or they have forgotten, the justice and mercy of God. Because they have not suffered, they do not understand how to be truly thankful.
Now, I cannot say that all those who have not suffered the pains our forebears suffered are not able to be thankful. We can, through empathy, feel a measure of gratitude.
The hymn “Come Ye Thankful People Come” is an invitation to all people. It is a clarion call for all to come to the feet of the Savior. He will bring in the harvest of those who have suffered and borne His cross. He will embrace each soldier who died in the cause of freedom.
He will comfort those who gave their all in the building of this great nation and those who stood as sentinels of freedom in the classrooms of life. He will dry the tears of the mothers who buried their children, and He will open His kingdom to those who have learned to mirror His life, giving love when it is easier to retaliate and get revenge.
Let us turn off our televisions, cellphones and tablets this Thanksgiving and remember those who sacrificed all of their tomorrows to give us our todays.
Thank them for the right to have our glorious Thanksgiving feast, both literally and figuratively. Then we will come close to understanding the gift of gratitude.
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