National Day of Thanksgiving

Service of  Worship & Praise

The Festival Service

for our National Day of Thanksgiving



Welcome to our worship service this morning.   We are thankful to our Lord and to you that you are able to spend this time with us in His house.   As you hear and meditate on the Word of our God today, it is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will bless your heart, filling you with the sincere desire to express your faith in worship and praise to God in response to all that our gracious Lord has done for you.




Personal Prayer upon entering church: 

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Maker of all things, although we have in no way deserved Your goodness and mercy,   You have daily and abundantly provided for all of our needs of body and soul.   Give us now, we pray,  the continued presence of Your Holy Spirit  that our hearts might be daily renewed,  and that we might, with heart-felt thanksgiving,  acknowledge Your gracious goodness toward us,  give thanks to You for all Your blessings, and serve You in willing obedience for all the days of our lives.  This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ Your Son our Savior,  Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy

Spirit, One God forever and ever.     Amen.

A Brief History and Commentary on Today’s Closing Hymn:   “Now Thank We All Our God”


Now thank we all our God,

with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done,

in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms

has blessed us on our way

with countless gifts of love,

and still is ours today.


            For modern American churchgoers, the Thanksgiving hymn “Now thank we all our God,” likely conjures up an image of a congregation singing in unison, a pipe organ blasting away at a stately tempo, and a church full of people thinking about the approaching feast of stuffed turkey with cranberry sauce.   After all, this hymn is as almost as much a part of thanksgiving as turkey and pumpkin pie. In fact, in ways, this hymn that dates from the seventeenth century is as “thanksgiving as thanksgiving gets.” 

            It’s author, German Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart and his family probably first sang this hymn before a meager meal, thanking God for the scraps of food they had on the table of their modest home in a refugee-filled city that was afflicted with famine, disease and war. The earliest estimated date for this hymn is 1636 and the oldest known date is 1663.  Consequently, this hymn was certainly (and most likely) written during or shortly after one of history’s most devastating conflicts, the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

            Martin Rinckart (1586-1649) was an accomplished musician, having studied at the University of Leipzig.  He spent most of his career as a musician and pastor in the city of Eilenburg during the Thirty Years’ War.   Because it was a walled city, Eilenburg was a refuge for political and military fugitives, as well for peasants fleeing the war’s devastation.   The result was overcrowding, along with famine and eventually deadly plagues.  Armies overran the city three times.  The Rinkart home was a haven for the victims, even though he was often hard-pressed to provide for his own family.   During the height of a plague in 1637, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg (the others had either died, or fled the city and their flocks).   As a result, he conducted as many as 50 funerals in a day.  Rinkart performed more than 4000 funerals in that year, including that of his wife.

            His experiences during the Thirty Years’ War had a profound impact on Rinkart’s poetry, just as it did for many of his hymnwriter contemporaries.   Lutheran scholar Carl Schalk observed that unlike the objective hymn texts of the Reformation period (focused more on  doctrine), the “cross and comfort” hymns written during the Thirty Years’ war reflected the life situations of the people who first sang those hymns, and so they endeavor to relate theology to every-day life.

            The tune for this hymn, “Nun danket,” was composed by Johann Crüger (1598-1662).  It first appeared in 1647 in Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis Melica: Das ist Ubung der Gottseligkeit in Christlichen und Trostreichen Gesänägen (“Practice of Piety in Song: That is practice of Godliness in Christlike and Comforting Songs”).   It would eventually become the most reprinted and popular Lutheran hymnal of its time.      “Nun Danket alle Gott” was included in the original German edition of Rinkart’s Jesu Hertz-Büchlein (1636).    In that hymnal’s second edition, from 1663, our hymn was entitled “Tisch- Gebetlein” (“A little table music”), suggesting that it could be sung as grace before a meal.

            Sadly, only a few of the 66 hymns that Rinkart wrote have been  reprinted in German hymn books over the centuries.  The version of “Now thank we all our God” with which we are familiar was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878).   Winkworth was a prolific translator, producing almost 400 translations of German hymns for English hymnals between 1855 and 1869.

            It’s worth noting that the text of the first two stanzas is based on the Old Testament Apocryphal book of Sirach 50:22-24:   “Now bless the God of all Who everywhere does great things, Who raises us up from our birth and deals mercifully with us.  23 May He give us gladness in our hearts, and may there be peace in our time, in Israel as in times past.” (CEB)  

            The first stanza is a depiction of a bounteous and gracious God Who has blessed us and provided for us. The text is propelled forward by the phrases beginning with “who/whom” and ending in descriptors of God’s actions:

Who wondrous things has done,

in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms….


            For someone in Rinkart’s dire situation, this expression of abundant gratitude might seem like hyperbole. If you don’t live in constant fear of starvation, the plague, and invading armies, you are already quite a bit more fortunate than he was; and yet, Rinkart expands this description of God into the second stanza by bridging the two stanzas with similar ideas:  “countless gifts” at the end of the first stanza is supported with a “bounteous God” at the beginning of stanza two.

            The second stanza of the hymn moves to the future, praying for guidance and a continuation of thanks and praise:


O may this bounteous God

through all our life be near us,

with ever joyful hearts

and blessed peace to cheer us;

and keep us in His grace,

and guide us when perplexed;

and free us from all ills,

in this world and the next.


            The second stanza also employs a poetic device known as “anaphora.”    Beginning each phrase with an “and,” three successive phrases:   ”and keep us…,” “and guide us…,” “and free us….”  are arranged in something of a chronological/progressive order that leads the singer to the final phrase of  “In this world and the next.”

            The third and final stanza brings the hymn to a close by acting as a German Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father” Doxology).   It offers praise to each of the three Persons of the Trinity and acknowledges God’s eternal nature in the last line.


All praise and thanks to God

the Father now be given;

the Son, and Him Who reigns

with Them in highest heaven,

the one eternal God,

Whom earth and heaven adore;

for thus it was, is now,

and shall be evermore.








The portions of God’s Word used in this worship flyer have been taken from The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version    Copyright 2019,    The Wartburg Project, Inc.   All rights reserved.   Used with permission Music and lyrics, as needed, are used with permission via #A712831




Pre-service music

Pre-service prayer


We Offer our Praises to God


The Welcome and Introduction to Worship – Pastor


After which the Congregation will rise


The Invocation                      

We begin this worship service…..

In the name of the Father, by Whose word the world was formed

and by whose power all things are sustained.  And

In of the Son,

by Whose suffering and death we have been redeemed,

and by Whose resurrection we are assured of heaven.   And

In of the Holy Spirit,

Who – through the Means of Grace has both brought us to faith

and keeps us in the one true faith.  Amen.



The Psalm for the Festival                                                                                        verses of selected Psalms


P:         Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done marvelous things;    His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.    (Psalm 98:1)


C:         Let all the earth fear the Lord;     Let all the people of the world revere Him.     For He spoke, and it came to be;    He commanded, and it stood firm.          (Psalm 33:8-9)

P:         Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name;    make known among the nations what He has done.    (Psalm 105:1)


C:        Give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love,    And His wonderful deeds for me,    For He satisfies the thirsty    And fills the hungry with good things.       (Psalm 107:8-9)


P:         Come and listen, all you who fear God;    Let me tell you what He has done for me.   (Psalm 66:16)


C:         The Lord is compassionate and gracious,     Slow to anger,   Abounding in love.    (Psalm 103:8)


P:         He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities.   (Psalm 103:10)


C:         For as high as the heavens are above the earth,    So great is His love for those who fear Him.       (Psalm 103:11)


P:         Shout with joy to God, all the earth!   (Psalm 66:1)


C:         Sing the glory of His name;   make is praise glorious!       (Psalm 66:2)


Our Opening Prayer


P:         Lord of heaven and earth, You have given us a beautiful world in which to live.  You have provided green forests and sparkling streams. You have arranged the orderly procession of the seasons of the year, and for the regular intervals of day and night for our work and rest.


C:         Thank You for the mountains and the prairies, for fresh water and sufficient rainfall.


  • Thank You for the roofs that shelter us, for clothing that protects us, for food and drink, for vehicles to drive, and for our material possessions, from the necessities for daily life to life’s luxuries.



  • Thank You for our work and hobbies, for projects that are done well, and for the approval of supervisors and teachers. Thank You for all who serve to make our days and nights safe and pleasant, from civil servants to health care workers.



  • Thank You for parents and children and relatives, for a Christian spouse, for godly friends and neighbors.

C:         Thank You for my fellow Christians assembled here today, for their encouragement, example, and spiritual support.


P:         Thank You for our cities and our countrysides, for farms and factories, for streets and highways, for the entertainment and recreation we enjoy, and for all of life’s other useful activities and arts.

C:         Thank You for children at play, their boundless energy, and their shouts of joy and laughter.  Thank You for friends and loved ones with whom we can share our meals and our lives.



  • Thank You for allowing us to live in a country that, with all of its problems, remains a land of prosperity, peace, and personal freedom for all.


C:         Thank You for this national holiday, for this occasion to be together with family and friends and fellow Christians, and for the opportunity to rest, relax and reflect on Your many blessings to all of us.

P:         Thank You for your Son, Jesus Christ, through Whom You have revealed Your merciful love and care for all Your creation.



  • Thank You for Christ’s coming to us in Your inspired Word and the Sacraments, for our Savior’s forgiveness full, free, and for all through faith in Him,      for listening to our prayers,    and especially for making us heirs of everlasting life in heaven.




P:         For all these gifts, as well as others that we have failed to mention or even remember, we praise You, our mighty Creator, merciful Redeemer, and sustaining Spirit.   



  • Move us to offer You our thanks and praise not only today, but in all our living and for all our days. We pray these things for Jesus’ sake, and in His name.  



The Opening Hymn                                                                                                 “Almighty God, Creator” 

                                                                                                                     melody: “Aurelia”    cwh, 2004/2006


Almighty God, Creator –  You only have to say,

“Let earth bring forth her harvest,” And all the fields obey!

As long as earth continues, Seed time, and harvest too,

Are by Your pow’r supported As promised, Lord, by You.


Each creature, Lord, receiving The wonders of Your love —

Our cups have been o’erflowing With blessings from above.

And should You choose to send us Misfortune on life’s way,

Send angels to attend us, To give us strength each day.


Lord, You have shown compassion By sending Your dear Son

To wipe away transgression, Thus our salvation won.

May we find joy professing Our Savior’s wond’rous love,

While constantly confessing Our sins to You above.


So, Lord, we come before You Our gratitude to pay –

To honor, praise, adore You For blessings day by day

Not only on Thanksgiving, But all the whole year through,

May we give thanks while living   A godly life for You. Amen.



after which the Congregation will rise


Hear Us and Forgive Us, Lord


Pastor –            “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.   


Congregation                “And also with you.”



Pastor –            “God invites us to come into His presence and

worship Him with humble and penitent hearts.  Therefore, let us now turn to Him, acknowledging our sinfulness and seeking His forgiveness.


Congregation –            “Holy and most merciful Father,     I confess that I am by nature sinful, and that I have

disobeyed You in my thoughts, words, and actions;  Each day I turn away from Your Will. I have left undone those things which You have asked me to do,    and I have done those things which You tell me not to do.    I do not love You or my neighbor the way I should.     Because of these,    and all of my other sins,    too numerous for me to recall,      I acknowledge that I deserve nothing less than Your punishment      both now and for eternity.     But I am truly sorry for the evil that I have thought, spoken, and done,     and trusting in the perfect life,   and innocent death of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray:    Lord, forgive me all my sins,      restore to me the joy of Your salvation,   and strengthen my weak faith through the promises of Your divine Word     that I may obtain Your promised grace.



Pastor –            Our gracious Lord and Master has shown us His mercy.   He has given His one and only Son to save

us from all our sins.   And now carrying out my office as a called servant of Christ, and by His command and authority, I forgive you all your sins   in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.   May the peace of God be with you.  Amen


Our Response to God’s Forgiveness                                                                     to the melody of “Ode to Joy”


Joyful, joyful we adore You,   God of glory, God of love!

Heav’n and earth bow down before You,    

Praising You, our Lord above.

You our Father,   Christ our Savior,   

With the Spirit faith provides,

Life eternal we’ve been granted, gracious gift that e’er abides.


You are giving and forgiving,      Ever glorious, Ever blest.

Source of every kind of blessing,    Giver of eternal rest.

You have claimed us as Your children;    

Heaven’s heirs through faith alone —

In the Rock of our salvation,  

Jesus Christ, our Lord, Your Son.


Lord, receive our prayers and praises,

weak and humble though they be.

Yours the power, Yours the glory,   Both today and endlessly.

None beside You, None before You,

God of mercy, full and free.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ever blessed Trinity.       Amen.


after which the Congregation may be seated



We Listen to the Word of our Lord


Old Testament Lesson                                                                                                     Deuteronomy 8:1-20


            Be conscientious about carrying out the entire body of commands that I am giving you today so that you may thrive and increase and you may go in and possess the land that the Lord promised by oath to give to your fathers. 2 Remember the whole journey on which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you and to test you, in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commandments. 3 So He humbled you and allowed you to be hungry. Then He fed you manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known before, in order to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 The clothes you wore did not wear out, and your feet did not swell these forty years. 5 So know in your heart that just as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 Therefore you are to keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in His ways and by revering Him.

            7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of gullies filled with water, a land with springs and groundwater that flows out into the valleys and down the mountains, 8 a land with wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees for oil, and honey, 9 a land where you can eat bread and not be poor, where you will not lack anything, a land whose rocks are iron and from whose mountains you can mine copper.

            10 Then you will eat, and you will be filled, and you will praise the Lord your God for the good land that He has given you. 11 Be very careful so that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and ordinances and his statutes that I am commanding you today. 12 When you eat and are satisfied, and you build nice houses and move into them, 13 and your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold increase, and everything that you have prospers, 14 watch out so that your heart does not become arrogant and forget the Lord your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, where you were slaves. 15 Do not forget the Lord, Who led you in the great and terrifying wilderness, where there were venomous snakes and scorpions, where the thirsty ground had no water, but the Lord made water come out of a flint rock for you. 16 Do not forget the Lord, Who in the wilderness fed you manna, which your fathers had not known before, to humble you and to test you so that it would be good for you later on.

            17 You might say in your heart, “My ability and the power of my hand have earned this wealth for me.” 18 But then you are to remember that the Lord your God is the One Who gives you the ability to produce wealth, to confirm His covenant that He promised to your fathers with an oath, as He does to this day.    19 But if you ever do forget the Lord your God and you follow other gods, and if you serve them and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will certainly perish. 20 Just like the nations that the Lord is about to destroy in front of you, you also will perish, because you would not listen to the voice of the Lord your God.



The New Testament Lesson                                                                                                  Matthew 6:25-34


            25 “For this reason I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

            27 “Which of you can add a single moment to his lifespan by worrying? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Consider how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin, 29 but I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not clothe you even more, you of little faith?

            31 “So do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unbelievers chase after all these things. Certainly your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”



The Gospel Lesson for Thanksgiving Day                                                                               Luke 17:11-19


            11 On another occasion, as Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, He was passing along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 When He entered a certain village, ten men with leprosy met Him standing at a distance, 13 they called out loudly, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

            14 When He saw them, He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they went away they were cleansed.  15 One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus responded, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then He said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.”


After which the Congregation will rise for


                                                                                                                            (Luther’s “Explanation” to the

Our Confession of Faith                                                                                First Article of the Apostles’ Creed)


I believe that God made me and every creature,  +   and that He gave me my body and soul,  +   eyes and ears and all my members,  +    my mind and all my abilities.  +   And I believe that God still preserves me    +    by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes,  +   food and drink,  +   house and home,   +    wife and children,   +    land, cattle, and all I own,   +  and all that I need to keep my body and life,   +    and by defending me against all danger   +  and guarding and protecting me from all evil.   +   All this God does only because He is my good and merciful Father in heaven,  +   and not because I have earned or deserved it.  +   For all this I ought to thank and praise,   +   to serve and obey Him.   +    This is most certainly true.   Amen.


after which the Congregation will be seated for


The Sermon Hymn                                                                                                                            Hymn 234 

                                                                                                                   “Praise To the Lord, the Almighty



Pre-Sermon Greeting            


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ.   May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer!  Amen.



The Thanksgiving Meditation                                                                                   based on Psalm 103:105

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.   All that is within me, bless His holy name. 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits—  3 Who pardons all your guilt, Who heals all your diseases,  4 Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with mercy and compassion, 5 Who satisfies your life with goodness, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.


David Counts His Blessings…and Ours


after which the Congregation will rise for


The Post-Sermon Benediction

May the Lord our God be with us as He was with our fathers;  may He never leave us or forsake us.  May He turn our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways.


We Offer Our Gifts to the Lord


Our Offerings of Love to our Lord


We offer you the following suggestions for providing God with Your thank-offerings through our ministry:

1) Those in the chapel can  place their offerings in the offering plates

2) You can send a check (no cash) in the mail to Grace Lutheran Church (415 N. 6th Place, Lowell, AR 72745)

3) Or, go online to our website ( and use the giving option there.

We Bring Our Prayers Before the Lord God


P:         We thank and praise You, Gracious Lord, for the gift of YOUR WORD, through which we have found peace, comfort, assurance, and eternal hope.  Guide us through Your Holy Spirit that we might treasure it always, use it daily, and spread faithfully.


C:         Hymn 279                                                                        ………….O Word of God, Incarnate”   verse 1

Oh Word of God, Incarnate,  O Wisdom from on high,

Oh Truth unchanged, unchanging,   O Light of our dark sky –

We praise Thee for the radiance 

 That from the hallowed page,

A lantern to our footsteps,  Shines on from age to age.


P:         We thank and praise You, Gracious Lord, for sustaining us through Your gifts of LIFE and HEALTH and for the abundance of EARTHLY POSSESSIONS, with which You have generously provided us.  Please teach and guide us to use our lives and all else that You have entrusted to us, to serve You willingly and faithfully throughout our days.


C:         Hymn 612                                                            ……………”Praise To God, Immortal Praise”   verse 3


Peace, prosperity and health, 

 Private bliss and public wealth,

Knowledge with its glad’ning streams,  

True religion’s holier beams –

Lord for these our souls shall raise   

Grateful vows and solemn praise.


P:         We thank and praise You, Gracious Lord, for the gifts of FAITH and SALVATION, through which You have made us Your children and heirs of heaven.  Help us, now and every day, to grow stronger in our faith, and always to be mindful that we have been saved, not by our merits or worth, but by Your free grace alone, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Savior


C:         Hymn 340                                                                 …………….”Oh, For A Thousand Tongues To Sing

                                                                                                                                                      verses 1 and 5

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing 

My great Redeemer’s praise,

The glories of my God and King, The triumphs of His grace:


Look unto Him, you nations; own  Your God, you fallen race.

Look and be saved through faith alone,  Be justified by grace.

P:         We thank and praise You, Gracious Lord, for the countless blessings which You have also showered upon us in this NATION and among its CITIZENS.  Particularly, we thank You for blessings of freedom and peace, and for the privilege of being able to publicly worship and serve You.


C:         Hymn 619                                                                             ……………….”God Bless Our Native Land


God bless our native land!  Firm may she ever stand

 Thro’ storm and night

When the wild tempests rave,   Ruler of wind and wave,

Do Thou our country save,      By Thy great might.


For her our prayers shall rise    To God above the skies

    On Him we wait

Thou who art ever nigh Guarding with watchful eye 

To Thee aloud we cry God save the state!


P:         And lest we forget our spiritual forebearers who contended for and handed down to us the faith we share today we thank and praise You, Gracious Lord for preserving them in the true faith and for the ETERNAL VICTORY You have given both to those fellow Christian pilgrims and to our own loved ones, who now live with You in heavenly glory.


C:         Hymn 551                                                         ……”For All The Saints Who From Their Labors Rest

                                                                                                                                                       verses 1 and 4


For all the saints who from their labors rest,

Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,

Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.  Alleluia!   Alleluia!  


O blest communion, fellowship divine, 

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!



P:         For ALL these and countless other BLESSINGS OF BODY AND SOUL, which are new to us each morning, we thank and praise You, our Almighty and everlasting Lord.  Once more then, we rise and unite our hearts and voices in approaching Your throne of grace to sing:


the Congregation NOW RISES to sing


C:         Hymn 609                                                          ……”We Praise You O God, Our Redeemer – Creator”

                                                                                                                                                                 verse 3

With voices united our praises we offer   

To You, Great Jehovah, glad anthems we raise.

Your strong arm will guide us;   our God is beside us.

To You, our great Redeemer, fore’er be praise!



The Lord’s Prayer  


Our Father Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name;  Thy kingdom come;  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;  Give us this day our daily bread;  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;  And lead us not into temptation;  But deliver us from evil;  For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.



We Leave With The Lord’s Blessing


The Benediction 


“The LORD bless you and keep you. 

 The LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

 The LORD look with favor upon you and give you His peace.   Amen.”


The Closing Hymn                                                                       Hymn 610  “Now Thank We All Our God”


Silent prayer


Post-service Music



Our National Day of Thanksgiving

– A Brief History

        Thanksgiving Day is America’s most typical, most distinctive national holiday.  Other nations have holidays that are like our Fourth of July “Independence Day” celebration;  many nations celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day;  and many observe the birthdays of national heros.  Only a very few, however, (one of which is our neighbor to the north, Canada) have days of national thanksgiving to God.

    The idea of giving thanks is neither new nor peculiarly American.  The ancient Hebrew Feast of Tabernacles (Succoth) was a thanksgiving and harvest festival.   The ancient Greeks had a harvest festival, which they called the feast of Demeter, as did the ancient Romans.  But the immediate forerunner of our country’s National Day of Thanksgiving was the old English “Harvest Home” celebration.  Each autumn it was built around a public worship service of thanksgiving to God for the harvest He had provided.  Following the worship service, those assembled would share in a public feast.

    In addition, it was customary for the earliest colonists, upon their arrival in America to immediately conduct worship services in order to render thanks to God for their safe arrival.  However, the Thanksgiving that we, by tradition, celebrate today has its origin in the Pilgrim’s famous “Thanksgiving Day” celebration.  It happened in the fall of 1621.   The Pilgrims had come to Plymouth from England, in search of a place where they could practice their religion in freedom (a right which many of us take for granted today).  When they had landed on the cold Massachusetts shore in November 1620, many of them were exhausted and physically sick from their long voyage.   Neverthe-less, with winter approaching, the promptly cut down trees and dragged them by hand (since they had no horses) to their camp.   There they quickly built homes for themselves and a stockade, for the protection of their community.   The winter that followed was intensely cold and difficult in a way they had never before experienced.  Many early colonists, among them Governor William Bradford’s wife, perished from exposure, illness, or malnutrition.   

    By God’s grace, the Indians had not posed a threat to the Pilgrims that winter.  They had made a treaty with the great chief Massasoit, establishing a peace between Pilgrim and Indian that would endure nearly fifty years.   Still they had to live with the very real threat of starvation that year, since they had brought with them from England barely enough food to last through that first winter, spring and summer.   With winter’s disaster still fresh in their minds, the Pilgrims were highly motivated to plant their corn carefully that spring, just as the Indians had taught them.   They also made sure to pray to God for an abundant harvest.   The life and death struggle of their first winter had taught the Pilgrims the importance of being grateful for whatever food the land would yield to them.  It should come as no surprise to us, then, that when they gathered in a bountiful corn harvest that fall, our Pilgrim “forefathers” chose to publicly thank God for the harvest and for their deliverance from hunger and starvation.  They invited their Indian friends to come and help them celebrate, which Massasoit did.  He also brought  ninety men with him, and he provided five deer to add to the feast.  Unknown to most people today, that first “Thanksgiving Day” was not a day-long celebration;  it lasted three days!

    Tiny Plymouth Colony was not yet free of the danger of starvation, however.  Two years later this ever-present threat came perilously close to reality.   1623 brought with it a summer-long drought of staggering proportions.  Week after week that summer, the Pilgrims watched their corn wither and waste away for lack of water.   At last Governor Bradford set aside a day of prayer for a rain that might save their crops and lives.  One entire day they prayed;  early the next morning it began to rain, and it rained for nearly two weeks!  Their crops were saved. After that they were never again in any real danger from  starvation.   Bradford  proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for the lifesaving rain.

    The first Thanksgiving Day celebrated by the United States as a nation came shortly after another great crisis in American history has been overcome.  George Washington, recently elected as the nation’s first president, proclaimed it for November 26, 1789.   The United States of America had passed through the double crisis of its War for Independence from England and also the struggle for union among thirteen independent and sometimes semi-hostile states.  Times had been very hard immediately after the war.  The central government was poorly organized and virtually powerless.  To make matters worse, the young states were constantly quarreling with each another. 

     Nevertheless, those thirteen former colonies committed themselves to rewrite their rather loose Articles of Confederation into a more binding national Constitution.  The purpose was to build a long-overdue, stable central government.  One of the first steps taken under the new constitution was Washington’s election to the Presidency by the Electoral College.   By late November of 1789 twelve of the thirteen states had ratified the Constitution of the United States of American (the 13th would ratify it in 1791).  Order, prosperity, and hope had finally arrived!

    It was with a profound awareness of the divine guidance that had been afforded to the framers of the Constitution, and with a deep feeling of gratitude for His deliverance from great national danger that President Washington proclaimed a day of national thanksgiving to God as the first year of the United States’ operation under the new constitution was drawing to a close.  Washington recommended that the citizens present their thanks to the Lord for everything He had done for their new nation.   They offered their thanks for the overall guidance that God had graciously provided during the formative Colonial period, and for the military and economic aid they had received from other nations during the struggle for independence.  In addition they remembered, with gratitude, the peace and prosperity that had come to their new nation since the war’s end.  Of course they also gave thanks for their new Constitution that guaranteed to all the blessings of peace, order, and civil and religious liberty.

     Throughout the United States, the custom of observing an annual day of thanksgiving continued after 1789, but the practice was not uniform nationally, since the date for celebration varied from state to state.  Mrs. Sarah Josephina Hale helped change that.  In 1846 she was the editor of the most important women’s magazine of the time, Godey’s Lady’s Book.   Mrs. Hale took it upon herself to start a one-woman campaign for the annual observance of a national Day of Thanksgiving.  Because of her relentless efforts, state after state officially adopted the last Thursday in November as its annual day of Thanksgiving.  By 1858 there were only six states that did not observe the custom.

    The Civil War severely tested whether the nation established in 1789 would survive or divide itself again into independent states.  Early in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln called for a day of national thanksgiving.  It would be celebrated in the churches, thanking God for victories given to the Northern armies in the Mississippi Valley, and for the avoidance of foreign intervention.  The next year, on July 15, just after the tide of the Confederate invasion had been turned back at Gettysburg, Lincoln made another announcement.  He proclaimed August 6 a special day of thanksgiving for the salvation of the Union, and for the newborn hope that the cause of national unity would eventually win against the forces of secession and separation.   Then, just a few weeks later, Lincoln again called upon the entire nation to render thanks to God, this time for all the blessings of that year, 1863.  Peace had been maintained with other nations, crops were good, and the tide of war had definitely turned in favor of the Northern armies.  For all these things, but most of all for the preservation of the Union, Lincoln called upon the people to be thankful.

    This second proclamation of Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving Day in 1863.  The next year, 1864, as the war was drawing to a close, the last Thursday in November was designated again as a day for giving thanks.  In 1865, President Andrew Johnson continued the precedent.  From that time on, the last Thursday in November was annually set aside as a day of thanksgiving, first by the President and then by governors of the states.  In December 1941, Congress, by a joint resolution decided that the official National Day of Thanksgiving should always be on the fourth Thursday in November.  It has remained so to this day.

    As a Christian congregation we have gathered together in the house of our God today in order to offer our personal and collective expressions of gratitude for the year’s food harvest, for the physical  blessings we have received, as well as for the religious liberty we continue to enjoy as citizens of the United States of America.   However, we especially thank our Lord for the spiritual blessings that He so generously and freely showers upon us all, particularly the gifts of forgiven sins and the guarantee of everlasting life through faith in God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

“O give thanks to the LORD for He is good!  His mercy endures forever!”