Introduction to the Study
For many this year is one to forget. Filled with concerns and often fear of unseeable enemy. We are practicing social distancing and wearing masks, hiding smiles and cannot get close. There are many who are still afraid to even go out to buy groceries and there is a general feeling of unease and isolation. All of us feel restricted and nothing is normal. When we worship, we sit apart and many of those we are used to seeing in the pews or at coffee hour are worshiping at home on the Internet. To put it mildly, 2020 has been a Topsy-Turvy year; but before we succumb to the general gloom and doom, we should not forget that God is always with us. This is not the worst year faced by our nation – one year that was worse, and it was in that year that a President proclaimed that the fourth Thursday in November be a day of Thanksgiving. Our first national Thanksgiving was proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, a year where the very future of the nation was still in doubt and there was a general sense of weariness at the then “new normal” of death and destruction. While many trace the origins of Thanksgiving back to the Pilgrims that celebration gave birth to some state sanctioned days, but it was Abraham Lincoln who decided that the nation needed to look to the blessings God had bestowed on the United States. Blessings lost in the news reports and death notices from the battlefields of a war which was tearing at our national fabric. His proclamation is one that we need to read today and is included at the end of this study.
A Family Celebrates That First National Day of Thanksgiving Amidst Loss
On that first national Thanksgiving Day a family gathered around the table at 109 Madison Street in New York City (then only Manhattan) on the last Thursday of November of 1863 but as far as the parents were concerned this was not a year to be thankful for anything. They had decided to return to England after being in America for fifteen years. They had to emigrate from England in 1847 for political reasons and had not only to leave a handicapped daughter behind but were forced to give up a successful tailoring business in London. Here the best they could do was to make common clothing for seamen and others in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Their oldest son, Edwin, had defied the wishes of his father and mother for him to learn the family business and instead after graduating from school apprenticed in the office of a ship broker and ship insurance company as a clerk learning the business of shipping and sea trade. He then further defied their wishes and joined the Army in 1862. He wrote home and told his parents and siblings about what he had experienced, and that this was not the glorious sadventure that he expected. He fought at South Mountain and Antietam and then contracted Typhoid Fever which took his life in April of 1863. So on this day of supposed thanksgiving all they could think about was the loss of their son. To make matters worse they could not afford a grave and had to bury him in a grave borrowed from the undertaker as it would be years before they could afford a grave for him. His parents still wanted to return to their comfortable middle-class lives in England, but Edwin’s four brothers and his sister would not leave the country he loved – besides only one of them had been born in England. Edwin’s siblings would take up their brother’s desire to be a success in business and they prospered, never forgetting the sacrifice of their brother. While the parents mourned a son lost that first national Thanksgiving Day, his siblings celebrated the gift that Edwin’s sacrifice gave to the family and his adopted country, that he loved more than anything else. That gift inspired his brothers and sister to give back to the nation he died for and stay here in this nation. Over the years many of the family inspired by the desire to give back to the United States would serve in the Armed Forces of Edwin’s adopted country to de- fend the liberty he died to protect.
This is a true story and Edwin’s family still gives thanks for his sacrifice in service to the nation 157 years after his death. The family that sat around the table in 1863 was mine – Edwin’s last name was Munkenbeck and his sacrifice is why I am an American today. Thank you, Uncle Edwin.
Let us also remember that at the Thanksgiving table we should also celebrate the sacrifice on Cavalry that gave us a gift of life and liberty from sin. During this busy season take a few minutes to sit down and consider the gift of life eternal that Christ has earned for us. Let us resolve this Thanksgiving to be inspired by this gift of God’s grace through the sacrifice of Christ and take inspiration from that gift to give back to God our worship, both private and public, our service, our testimony and our support.
Today’s Verse: Psalm 107:1
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. (NKJV)
This verse is the first one in the fifth book of the collection of thought poems we call The Psalms. It is basically a sequel to the last Psalm, number 106 of the fourth book and is both a hymn of thanksgiving and also wisdom. Written after the Exile, this Psalm is a call to the people to thank God for his redemption. Both Psalms 106 and 107 make it clear that the cause for thanks is the good char- acter of God. Here He is being thanked for a temporal delivery – the return from exile and reinstatement to the blessings of the Promised Land. God did this despite the transgressions of Israel that put them into captivity. God has replaced thier misery with joy at His mercy in restoring to the peo- ple their birthright. This first verse begins a call for thanksgiving to God for His redemption of Israel and this call for thanksgiving continues through verse 3. On our own day of Thanksgiving let us be thankful for His redemptive grace to each one of us through the sacrifice of Christ.
Hymn: Come Ye Thankful People Come (#694 in the hymnal)
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.
This is used as one of our traditional Thanksgiving hymns, but Henry Alford wrote this as a harvest hymn based on Mark 4:26-29 and Matthew 13:36-43. It was first published in 1844 in four stanzas headed by the title heading, “After Harvest.” Over the next two decades this hymn was revised by the author and by others and what is in our hymnal today is Mr. Alford’s 1867 version. We have since seen further changes in the words of the hymn as in the latest hymnal the words have been made “gender neutral.” The harvest referred to in the hymn is the harvest of souls when Christ re- turns to the earth. The tune “St. George’s Windsor” was written by George J. Elvey in 1858 and was joined to this hymn in 1861. Elvey was the organist at the Chapel of St. George, which is the royal chapel at Windsor Castle.