Pandemic Gratitude (Thanksgiving)
November 22, 2020 (Thanksgiving)
Rev. Fritz Nelson
So I’m stuck in the basement. I say that, but its not really true. I can go throughout the house, out into the yard and even out and about as long as I don’t come into contact with anyone other than my immediate family – who are stuck in this quarantine time with me. It could be worse. Those in the household who’ve had COVID have had it relatively mildly. Nobody’s in the hospital. Nobody has died. Our house is big enough to give everyone some space and we all get along pretty well. But when the health department called a few days ago and pronounced our quarantine would last much longer than we’d anticipated, tears were shed, words were said and a dark pall descended upon an already less than cheerful home.
So much has been upended. So much has been lost. The we’ll get through this together spirit we all had back in March has turned into a long, often lonely, slog. Our sanctuary was shuttered for Easter – and it may very well be again for Christmas Eve. Graduations, funerals, birthday parties, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day, now Thanksgiving, soon Christmas all disrupted. Families split over precautions, quarantines, masks, politics.
My soul is full of troubles (the psalmist writes)
my life draws near to Sheol
I am counted among those who go down to the Pit
I am like those who have no help
Like those forsaken among the dead
Like the slain lying in the grave
Like those whom you, O God, remember no more
Like those cut off from your hand
So often during this pandemic time the psalms have seemed to speak my frustration, my anguish, my prayers. The psalmists see a world where deadly enemies swirl around us. They seek to encircle us, trap us, kill us. Besieged by our enemies we struggle to see God.
To be dead, in Sheol, in the Pit to the ancient Israelites wasn’t to be in heaven or to be in hell. To be dead was to be cut off from God, at the mercy of your enemies. Ignored. Forgotten. No longer among the living, among those experiencing divine blessing.
I went for a walk in the park the other day. The sun was shining. I had to get out. While walking around the lake I ran into my friend Greg. He knew I was in quarantine. He moved further away. I moved further away. We greeted each other from afar. You’re a leper, he said, joking – but it didn’t feel like a joke.
We feel separated, divided, lost. Where is God in this? How can we sing the Lord’s song in this land? In this time and place we’re in? Thanksgiving is ruined, we hear the talking heads bemoan. Christmas has been canceled.
In addition to the Psalms, I find myself going back to James’ admonition to prayer – but in my mind, when I remember the passage, I hear an admonition to praise or thanksgiving.
Are any among you suffering? They should give thanks.
Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise
Are any among you sick? They too should give thanks.
The prayer of faith – faith in a God who is present, a God who, like a Mother will not forsake her nursing child; a God who, like a loving Father, runs to welcome the prodigal home. God is present. We’ve not been abandoned in the pit, we’ve not been left to be overrun by our enemies. We can still give thanks, even if our Thanksgiving holiday is stripped of usual rituals. No force on earth can cancel Christmas. Christ can and will enter our pandemic time, our quarantine, even if parties and church services alike are canceled. Perhaps the quieter holiday season will actually create more space for thanksgiving, more space to experience Christ.
So in the midst of the frustration and the disappointment, the grief and the uncertainty and the pain, we give thanks. We give thanks for the big things – a God who through Christ has established an unshakable presence in our lives and in our world. We give thanks for the little things – for getting up in the morning, for being able to breathe the breath of life, for food on the table, for family and friends who – though they may not be present in person, may still be present at all. We give thanks that those we mourn can receive the promise of divine grace. We give thanks that those who cry can receive divine comfort. And perhaps we give thanks that certain family members will not be coming to our houses this year, that we don’t have to cook so much, clean so thoroughly, travel so far, or bite our tongues until they bleed.
Though we walk in the midst of trouble
The Lord preserves me against the wrath of our enemies
You stretch out your hand
And your right hand delivers us
The Lord will fulfill his purpose
His steadfast love does endure forever
So we sing the Lord’s song in the midst of frustration, fear and disappointment.
In the midst of loneliness, uncertainty, grief and pain we give thanks.