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Thanksgiving Eve/Day, Cycle A

It is appropriate to give thanks to God during every moment of every day. It is appropriate also for us to give thanks to God together with all of the people in our land on a special National Day of Thanksgiving. When we prepare to offer a worship service on a National Day of Thanksgiving, however, we realize that there are no biblical texts that refer specifically to our nation as we know it today. We realize also that worship services on our National Day of Thanksgiving should be inclusive of all of the people who live in our nation. They should not be limited to one group of Christians. They should not be limited to Christians. They should include recognition for the natives who were displaced and whose lives and culture were destroyed by those of our ancestors who immigrated to our land. The worship services should be public, open, and conducted with integrity.

With all of this in mind, we see that such worship services should be led in public places by the president of our nation, who is by virtue of that office the “High Priest” of American Civil Religion, and/or by other elected or appointed officials in our government at the national, state, and local levels. Special liturgies should be used that focus our attention on our national, civil religion at its best, inclusive of all people, serving all people, and giving thanks to God as a people. The leaders in this worship should not be clergy of any ecclesial religion. Instead, they should be representatives of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government.

In most instances, however, we have expected members of the clergy in our ecclesial religions to plan and to conduct such worship services, even though we have no biblical texts that apply directly to our nation and even though most of the clergy in our ecclesial religions have not had significant training in their seminaries or elsewhere to prepare them to lead in civil religion worship services. (Clergy in our ecclesial religions who have had training and experience for service as chaplains in the military, corrective institutions, hospitals, and so forth of our nation are partially exceptions to this.)

In spite of all of this, if we choose to conduct worship services on our National Day of Thanksgiving within our individual congregations or together as groups of congregations, there are texts selected in our lectionary for this year in Series A.

Deuteronomy 8:7-18
This text, designed for use in the civil religion of ancient Israel, is one of the texts in our biblical tradition most applicable for our adaptation and use in our ecclesial National Day of Thanksgiving worship services. It offers no recognition and no concern, however, of the native peoples who were displaced by the Israelite immigrants. It provides warnings and admonitions about how to live in the land, for the most part, rather than expressions of thanksgiving.

Psalm 65
The Lord is praised in this psalm as the God of our salvation. Salvation here is defined as forgiveness of sins, control of nature, a bountiful harvest, and the opportunity to worship God in prayer and meditation in the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, the People of God and all of the earth shall shout for joy.

2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Within chapters 8 and 9 of this composite letter of Paul to followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul urges that significant offerings be collected, designated, and then taken to share with followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. Paul wrote in what for us is 2 Corinthians 9:11 that his readers will be blessed for sharing generously portions of their resources and this should result in thanksgiving to God. There is a good application here for our National Day of Thanksgiving, especially when we joyously share our resources through offerings, benevolent work, and taxation with those in our nation who are in need, and when we do this throughout the year and not only for a day or two around the time of November and December holidays.

Luke 17:11-19
Here again the inspired Lukan writer provides a story that is so vividly told that we can practically “see” every detail in it. The Lukan Jesus is near the end of his theological journey toward Jerusalem. He is passing theologically between the Galilean Jews and the Samaritans. All of them (perhaps symbolically represented by the number 10) are unclean. They stand at a distance, acclaim Jesus as their Master, and ask for his mercy. When they are obedient to Jesus, they are cleansed. Only one of them, however, when he sees that he has been cleansed, abandons the traditional way of going to show himself to the priests for certification of cleanliness, and returns to Jesus, giving glory to God and falling at the feet of Jesus in thankfulness. The nine who go the Jewish way, even though they have been cleansed by Jesus, are compared unfavorably with the single Samaritan who returns immediately to thank Jesus and to praise God.

The extent that this account can be traced back to the Jesus of history is uncertain. It is probable that the identity as a Samaritan of the one who returns to Jesus to praise God was given at the point in the transmission of the account when the mission of the followers of Jesus to the Samaritans became prominent, and the resulting anti-Jewish polemic is an additive that stems from the period of 80-90 CE when the break between the developing Church and the Synagogue became irreparable. We see that the Lukan tradition and the Fourth Gospel tradition praise the Samaritans and renounce the Jews, but in different ways. The positive emphasis in this Lukan text and in all of the texts selected for this occasion is the obedient, faithful, thankful response to God for forgiveness, life, healing, and salvation. That is what we are called to proclaim.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen