Feasting on Thanks
by Kathy Coffey
Part 1 of an article which originally appeared in St. Anthony Messenger
Often when asked to name a special family time, peoples’ responses cluster around meals: Christmas dinner, birthday parties, a vacation cook-out by the shore, a wedding banquet. Their intuition is sound: these special times are also sacred times. What better day to celebrate that connection than Thanksgiving?
It’s a holiday designed for thanks and feasting (though turkey and football have become part of the cultural accretion). The first Pilgrims who celebrated it were simply glad they’d survived a precarious ocean crossing in 1620, and had harvested enough corn to carry them through winter. They were grateful NOT for blissful, pain-free experience, but for the presence of God in whatever circumstance they met.
The Biblical Background
While atheists and agnostics celebrate Thanksgiving, people with religious ties are more likely to do so. A close connection between food and thanks is old as the Book of Wisdom: “That your children whom you loved might learn, Lord, that it is not the various kinds of fruits that nourish, but your word that preserves those who believe you!” (16:26)
Meals and gratitude are interwoven throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Apparently meals were so important to Jesus, his critics accused him of being a glutton and drunkard. When he wanted to define himself in terms of abundance, he told a hungry people who wanted the manna their ancestors had eaten: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6:30-35).
When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, he first gave thanks (Jn. 6:11). He followed the practice of his Jewish ancestors at the Passover meal when he gave thanks for bread before breaking it, and for wine before drinking it. For him, eating and thanking were intertwined activities. When his disciples thought he was a ghost, he asked for something to eat, and they gave him baked fish. Because he knew the sacred context for eating, he might be saddened by how thoughtlessly we drive through and chow down.
After Paul’s startling discovery on the road to Damascus that he’d been persecuting the wrong people, Acts records his healing, baptism, and a key detail: “when he had eaten, he recovered his strength” (Acts 9:19). He then poured energy into converting most of the known world. Who cooked that meal? And what was on the menu? To Be Continued...