Sermon October 8 Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Dayenu Rev. Betsy Hogan
Do you have any Thanksgiving rituals? One of mine, as some of you may have noticed over these past many years, is using on our slides on Thanksgiving Sunday the work of Canadian artist Mary Pratt.
Not only because of its luminous beauty but also because of her sacralizing of the domestic. Of what used to be characterized as, and often still is, the realm of women.
The sustaining of day after day, of food on the table and ‘come and eat’. Art technicians rightly celebrate Mary Pratt’s masterful realism and particularly her basically unparalleled ability to paint light – but what was and is still revelatory about her work is its deliberate and florid attention to that realm of women. The domestic. The ordinary. The essential.
Which I think would make it perfect for Thanksgiving, even if she hadn’t also conveniently made actual pictures of roasting turkeys and microwave casseroles and batches of rolls. Which she did. But perfect for Thanksgiving regardless because frankly what better definition of Thanksgiving can there be than paying deliberate and florid attention to the domestic and the ordinary and the essential?
It's basically become literally the point of Thanksgiving. And I say it’s “become” literally the point only because industrialization and urbanization have together shifted us away from what was initially its point – both on this land and on whatever land our forbears came from. Which was of course giving thanks for the bringing in of the harvest.
Though not ALL the harvest, of course, since there are things that get harvested willy nilly all summer long – and presumably people were as grateful bit by bit in days of yore as we might be bit by bit, when there are strawberries and then tomatos or beans or whatever –
But Thanksgiving was about giving thanks at the bringing in of the END of the harvest, the BULK of the harvest, all the stuff that lasted. That saw people through the winter. In effect, Thanksgiving in the ‘olden days’ was about giving thanks for “daily bread” all winter… in advance.
Which, in northern climates? That’s a good ritual. If somewhat less resonant for us, as industrialized and urbanized, even if we try to get closer to it by eating local. Because I would guess that probably only a few of us, and maybe only a VERY few, will be sitting this weekend atop a cellar containing some measure of everything we’ll be eating all winter, giving thanks for that “daily bread”… in advance.
For us, now, thanksgiving is about what we’re thankful for… today. It’s about pausing to pay deliberate and florid attention to what we recognize as essential, of the essence, of the goodness of the ordinary and the domestic… today. “What are we thankful for?”, we ask ourselves. And although when I used to ask that question to the children of the congregation in Sunday School, one of the answers was invariably “the Pittsburgh Penguins” – things would always shake out pretty quickly after that into very familiar territory.
Thankful for families, thankful for food, thankful for favourite things – even way back then Molly would always tell the kids that she was thankful she was still here. And amen to that and give thanks for life, as the old hymn goes.
Just the ordinary and the domestic, but also the essential. What we’re thankful for, not in advance but just… today.
The interesting thing is that BECAUSE of that shift with industrialization and urbanization in this northern climate, our Thanksgiving ritual now has actually drawn nearer in its meaning to the Thanksgiving ritual described in this morning’s reading from the ancient book of Deuteronomy.
The ritual of the first fruits. Laid out by Moses for the people of Israel roughly three thousand years ago… followed too by Jesus and his disciples and all those first Christians who gathered around them about a thousand years later, roughly two thousand years ago….
And what we kind of try to parallel in our annual gathering-in of harvest fruits and vegetables for the Food Bank. Because it's basically what we tend to sort of imagine Moses is describing here.
A ritual of thanksgiving at harvest time in which as a sign of our gratitude that we have enough, we bring the MORE than enough -- as an offering EXPRESSING that gratitude – so it can be shared. Like paying-it-forward as a way of saying thank you. To God who, after all, makes all of it possible.
It's a beautiful ritual! And a perfect expression of gratitude. Just simply to share, to pay it forward, to translate our thanksgiving into kindness – because we know quite well that God's provided MORE than enough for everyone and so our sharing can make real in some small way God's intent. That no one go hungry.
It's a perfect expression of gratitude, to recognize our own abundance and make out of it a ritual of offering so others have enough.
It just… isn't actually what Moses is describing here. In this passage from the book of Deuteronomy.
Not that it wouldn't sometimes play out that way, but strictly speaking it isn't actually what Moses is calling for in this passage from Deuteronomy.
Because the offering in this thanksgiving ritual that Moses lays out here for the people of Israel, it's NOT an offering of what's 'more than enough'. It's NOT a commandment to cast one’s eye over the totality of the bounty, and offer up what can be shared.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. But what Moses actually commands the people of Israel to offer up in thanksgiving here is the FIRST fruits of the harvest. Those first ripe tomatoes. The first fully grown cucumbers. The first ripe blackberries and red apples and orange pumpkins and ears of corn. The ones that arrive first, and we've been waiting for ages. The ones that arrive first, and we literally have no idea if any more will follow. Or if something will happen. Or if there WILL in the end be enough.
THAT's the offering called forth by Moses in this ritual. Not the 'more than enough'. The first fruits. Right off the top. This thanksgiving ritual as described in Deuteronomy isn't a ritual that translates gratitude into an expression of sharing, of kindness. It isn’t the thanksgiving for ‘daily bread’ in advance, that’s inherent in the harvest festival roots of our own Thanksgiving rituals.
It's just about what there is today. It’s gratitude for the ordinary… as essential. And it's a ritual that translates that gratitude into an expression of trust.
Because what Moses offers in Deutereonomy and what Jesus later picks up in the prayer he teaches his disciples is honestly… gratitude as armour against anxiety.
It’s what Moses’ people need In the wilderness of uncertainty through which they wander, but for us it’s a gift. It’s cultivating, as a ritual, a gratitude for what IS, for what’s NOW, for what’s TODAY. That deliberately chooses to translate into trust anything beyond that. It’s the gift of how to build an armour against anxiety.
It’s the simplest, most ordinary, most essential ritual of all. It’s just saying thank you. Let us pray.