“Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
It’s been over a year and half since we were thrown into the maelstrom that is the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was brutal in every way – physically, economically, spiritually, socially, and politically. And now, at the end of 2021, most of those same issues still plague us – albeit in new variants. We still have health insecurity as COVID moves from a pandemic to an endemic disease. And we still have economic instability thanks to the widening wealth gap (a kind of “K” recovery). We also have fierce divisiveness around vaccine mandates, voting laws, and abortion legislation, and even the ugly head of our racial inequities has reared itself again with recent court rulings.
But my faith tradition has an ancient practice of giving thanks to God no matter the circumstances – as a way for us to remember that God is a good God who is in control (Jeremiah 29:11) and who knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:8). The people of God are not unaccustomed to hard times – whether it be Jewish enslavement in Egypt or exile in Babylon or wandering in the Wilderness for a generation, or early Christianity’s persecution by the Roman Empire for its first 300 years as a fringe, counter-cultural, religious movement.
The people of God also know the imperfect history of European colonization, and our own historical issues here in the United States (genocide and enslavement woven into the fabric of our country’s founding, our Civil War, our Jim Crow laws, the continued evils of labor exploitation, mass incarceration, the death penalty, our treatment of the unborn and their parents, and white supremacy).
But the Christian faith has long promoted the practice of thanksgiving, the practice of proclaiming God’s sovereignty and goodness amidst any and all circumstances. We do this, as people of faith, because we know that God has shown He can lead His people out of Egypt by parting the sea, that He can keep His people safe inside a Babylonian furnace, that He can bring His people into the Promised Land, that He can rapidly grow a fledgling Church amidst Roman imperial persecution…
…that He can save the Union from a white supremacist insurrection and exorcise our original sin of slavery, that He can bring us Civil Rights leaders that give political voice to all races, genders, and sexual orientations, and that He brings hope to our present day as activists win clemency for death row inmates, as white supremacist vigilantes are (at least sometimes) convicted of murder, and political leadership – at the local, state, and national level – still work to form a more perfect Union. In short, I do still believe that though “the arc of the moral universe is long […] it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr).
There is power as we practice thanksgiving, especially during tough circumstances. So, today, despite the continuation of difficult days here at Thanksgiving 2021, I give thanks. I give thanks for my wife and my boys. I give thanks for our extended family and our community of friends. I give thanks for my colleagues, my company, our church, our country, our health, our schools, the COVID vaccines, and our frontline workers who continue to put themselves and their families in harm’s way to serve us all.
Yes, this season has been a hard one, and it continues to be hard more than a year and half into this pandemic. But my faith tradition teaches me that we have reason to be thankful on this Thanksgiving 2021 – despite the difficulties.
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited […] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:12-16, 21 NIV)
So, today, I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalms 107:1 NIV).
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.