Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Our epistle reading for Thanksgiving day comes from the section of the Letter to the Philippians that urges those in that community to resolution of their conflicts that are dividing the faithful one from another. I am brought to gratitude for the appropriateness of this reading that calls for us to hear it with new ears today.
As a historian, I used to talk to my students about the antecedents of Thanksgiving Day here in the US—about the troubling history of that first Thanksgiving, absolutely, but also of the times when Thanksgiving proclamations have been most notable: by George Washington in 1789, after the great cataclysm of the Revolutionary War, and by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the terrible Civil War. Both of these wars divided our country, brother against brother and parent against child. And yet, the impulse to gratitude nevertheless demanded expression from our leaders, calling us to thankfulness for bountiful harvests and our commitment to a common purpose. Their call to a national day set aside for giving thanks for the innumerable gifts of God to us is all the more notable given their insistence on keeping firmly separate their private religious belief, whatever that may have been, with their role as the leaders of our government.
As we are called to being mindful of thankfulness especially on this national day of Thanksgiving, I pray a prayer for unity. In using that word, I am conscious of what unity is—a commitment to each other embedded in our baptismal covenant, where we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. In the book Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is, Rowan Williams and Joan Chittister write this: “Unity is not external control; it is internal commitment derived one person at a time until what they hear from one another together touches the heart and drives the soul of them all” (p. 103).
May we today be rededicated to the concept of unity and the pursuit of the common good on this day. Together may we make up a canopy of gratitude and generous care for each other as broad and interlacing as the lingering leaves that still tenaciously cling to the trees.
May we remember as we gather around our family tables those who have no table, and in unity with them rededicate ourselves to alleviating hunger and poverty within this land and act on that priority within our common life. May we welcome the stranger and the refugee to the table alongside us, that we may give thanks unfeignedly, exercising gratitude as a spiritual practice that excludes no one. May we give thanks for those who have had the grace to forgive us, and work to restore the broken or bruised relationships in our lives, especially as we gather around family tables. And above all, may we give thanks to God our Creator, whose love ever upholds us in generous grace and mercy, whose peace truly surpasses our understanding.
God of Abundant Grace,
your love preserves us
and calls us to wakefulness and compassion:
we raise our hearts in thankfulness and praise.
You, O God, call all the stars by their names,
and set them dancing overhead to our wonder and delight.
You teach the birds their songs
that lighten our hearts and call us to joy.
May we tend to the earth,
and to each other,
with steadfastness and gratitude,
always seeing your imprint, Lord Christ,
wherever we look.
May we treasure friends and loved ones,
companions and fellow travelers on this earth,
and reach out to those around us in love and kindness.
May we seek to mend the wounds we have created,
and forgive those who have hurt us.
May we ever cultivate being honorable and compassionate,
being just while loving mercy and grace,
seeking purity while acknowledging our humanity.
Holy One, send your angels to tend to those
who call upon You and depend upon your care,
especially those away from home,
and those whose needs we place before You,
that your peace,
surpassing all our knowing,
may be our embodied prayer.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.