Remember what God has done
Almost a year had passed since their arrival at the tip of Cape Cod when the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. Many in their company had died, but by all accounts none of the Pilgrims should have emerged from the first winter alive.
They had great faith in God along with the grit and resolve necessary to survive. They had also engaged the Indians for peace, compensated the Indians they had taken corn from, and pledged their loyalty to Massasoit, the chief of the Pokanokets, when he needed support. Their prudent diplomacy with the Indians played a vital role in their survival.
It is no surprise then that at the First Thanksgiving, the festival included the Indians. In fact, there was twice the number of Indians than Pilgrims at the feast. About one hundred Pokanoket Indians arrived for the celebration with five freshly killed deer.
We don’t know the exact date the First Thanksgiving was held, but it was after the first harvest of corn, beans, barley, peas, and other crops. William Bradford announced that since they “had gathered the fruit of their labors,” it was time to “rejoice together after a more special manner.”
Some of the Pilgrims went “fowling” and after few hours collected a sufficient number of ducks and geese to feed the whole assembly. Fish were so abundant in the fall they were probably added to the menu. The celebration was primarily to give thanks to God, and the Pilgrims enjoyed eating and drinking with the Indians, whom they counted as friends from the Lord. Nathaniel Philbrick writes in his book “The Mayflower,” “There was a lot of bounty and goodwill at the First Thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving in all circumstances is the will of God for his people. William Cooper, a contemporary of the Pilgrims, wrote, “Thankfulness demonstrates a spiritual and noble frame of soul in the highest pitch of grace. The Lord Jesus taught us thankfulness both by pattern and precept, and he thanked God frequently and fervently. Even when he was to eat common bread, he gave thanks.”
The important thing to the Pilgrims was their spiritual life, their faith in Christ. This they sought to flourish in and share with their Indian friends. One of their primary reasons for coming to New England was to be used of God to plant the Christian faith there.
William Bradford, in listing the reasons the Pilgrims left Holland for America, concludes: “Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remotest parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.” They were not their own but sought the will of Christ the Lord.
They had the spirit of the Heidelberg Catechism which says the only comfort in life and in death is: “That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He so preserves me that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. In fact all things must work together for my salvation.”
Isaiah 42:1 says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him.” God commands us to look upon Christ. The Lord condemns all those who do not look to him. All those who look upon Christ rightly are sure to follow that look. It is a source of great thanksgiving to hear the Lord say, “You are not your own, but bought with a price.”
Isaiah 42:1 is fulfilled at Jesus baptism when the Spirit of God came down and rested upon Jesus. The Father spoke from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17). God is well pleased with all who are united to Christ; they are in a good way, both body and soul. They lack nothing but a further revelation of the Son of God.
So this Thanksgiving, count your many blessings, name them one by one. Remember what God has done. And behold the Servant of the Lord, making him the foundation of all your thanks to God.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.