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Where was the first Thanksgiving ?

Someone asked me not too long ago, “Was the first Thanksgiving held in Plymouth Colony in November 1621 or was it held at Berkeley Plantation in December 1619?” Hmm… Was the first Thanksgiving held in Virginia, the place where I was raised, or was it in Massachusetts, the place where I was told as I was growing up?

If Disney Productions had their way, the first everything in America started with the Pilgrims and the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Plymouth. There is even the original rock that the pilgrims first stepped foot on to prove it.

Virginia people have another opinion about that. Since the first English settlement in America was plopped down at Jamestown in 1607 and had an amazing fill of food shared with the Native Americans at the Berkley Plantation in 1619, two whole years before the Pilgrims even arrived on Plymouth Rock, the prize goes to Virginia.

So how should I tell the story? Ugh…what to do?

Grace came in the form of an online article from National Geographic I read a while back suggesting that the first Thanksgiving was actually celebrated in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 by the Spaniards. Much to my relief, with that answer neither Massachusetts nor Virginia could claim the undisputed prize! Well maybe…. But from my perspective since I was ordained is this:

As followers of Jesus Christ, however, our core identity should not be a regional one. Our core identity should be that of a Christian, that of a beloved child of God. And for people with that core identity, the story of the first Thanksgiving is much farther away and much further back than any of the three.

Eucharist is the Greek word for thanksgiving. The story of a Christian’s first Thanksgiving is the story that we tell when we gather around a table, when we ask God to make ordinary things holy, and when we ask God to make ordinary people holy too.

There seem to be just as many cultural and traditional differences between the various branches of the Jesus Movement as there are between the various regions of the United States. You know what I mean: Roman Catholics think that they were first on the scene. Episcopalians think that their liturgies are the best. Baptists think that they have a monopoly on biblical literacy. The Mennonites think that they are the only ones who really understand Christ’s call to peace.

There is nothing wrong with having pride in our individual heritages – either regional or ecclesiastical. But we need to make sure that our pride does not lead us to the rejection of other people and other heritages. We need to remember Jesus’ prayer at our first Thanksgiving: That we might all be one.

“Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray that all thy Church may be forever one, grant us at every Eucharist to say with longing heart and soul, ‘Thy will be done.’ O may we all one bread, one body be, through this blest sacrament of unity.”

Perhaps this Thanksgiving, we can turn our hearts and minds not towards Plymouth Colony – or Berkeley Plantation or even St. Augustine, Florida – but towards the upper room in Jerusalem. Perhaps we can see our Thanksgiving tables as extensions of Jesus’ own table, as places where God’s people are drawn together across their differences, as places where God makes ordinary things and ordinary people into holy things and holy people and then gives them as gifts to his world.

I pray that you have a safe and renewed sense of Thanksgiving in your life this year. With the ability to gather together again after a year of thinking of nothing but of the Pandemic, I am thankful for the ability to gather together again in one place. May God’s continued grace fill you with love and peace in this season of Thanksgiving and in the days to come as we enter the Advent Season in our liturgical calendar.

See you Sunday at 8 AM or 10:30 AM in person or streaming on YouTube at 10:30 AM. Fr. Bill+



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