Reflection for Thanksgiving 2013
One of the great instructions to the formerly enslaved peoples who had recently left Egypt was that the first fruits of their first harvest were to be dedicated in thanksgiving for their deliverance from slavery (Deut.26:1-11).
If you haven't personally known slavery, it probably seems like this instruction would not be necessary, right? Whoo-hoo! We're free! Finally free! Of course the first thing we'll do with the beginning of our harvest is give it up from thanksgiving for freedom, right? Except there are two major problems with that belief: (1) after waiting months for the harvest and working hard through all of that, after all the trials and tribulations, and the exhaustion that comes from harvesting, how grateful will we really feel? and (2) the lack of what a people need that slaves have ever suffered make it hard to let go what's finally their own.
Consider for a moment how extraordinary it is that a religious text, passed down through the ages, instructs us to remember our time of slavery and to give thanks for our deliverance with further sacrifice.
Reading that reminds me of the little and big chains so many of us contend with - cultural and institutional oppression, the fact that education remains unattainable for so many, the prison state, the reality that at some point 50% of American children will not have enough to eat -- and the fact that slavery is not so very far away after all. Indeed, human trafficking is still a global problem, and probably a problem somewhere near you. Then there's the little chains that rattle and hold us tight: our fears, our yearning for recognition and reward, our jealousy and greed, even those flashing beliefs that some people deserve and some do not. No, slavery is yet with us, in many guises.
And so is coming into the promised land. We still have a long way to go until every person is free and every person knows dignity and every person can share their gifts for goodness' sake. We still have a long way to go until the lands and waters are restored everywhere to health. We still have a long way to go before every stranger is made welcome and made friend, before peace prevails, before joy is known by every heart. But we can be grateful for being here right now, and with our acts of gratitude, can do a little more to make the promised land real.
Sacrificing the first fruits of our labors wherever we are now, offering those to others in need, is something all of us can do. We might have good cheer, or helping hand, or comfort, if we give these generously, grateful for being here right now, we are giving thanks.. We might have a story or a song or a place at our table, and if we give these generously, grateful for being here right now, we are giving thanks. We might have food or a place to live or safe harbor, and if we give these generously, grateful for being here right now, we are giving thanks.
Grateful for being here right now, may we remember slavery is still real and the effects of slavery is still real. May we keep fighting for freedom for all and working each day to bring the promised land into fruition. And in the meantime, each day we have a harvest to offer, from our lives, one to another and to this earth, a harvest of love and a harvest of hope and a harvest of abiding faith. These are the first fruits of our lives: let us give them freely, gladly, every day.