The week that leads up to the Thanksgiving holiday is always a busy time – and if at any time the responsibilities and the details and the obligations and the distractions become too great, this modern version of a Bible passage is a good reminder of how to proceed: “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18, The Message).
A role model for thanking God can be found in President Abraham Lincoln. While Thanksgiving is deeply rooted in our American history going all the way back to the 17th century, it was really Lincoln who got the holiday permanently settled into our calendar. In 1863, Lincoln proclaimed the first National Day of Thanksgiving, and he encouraged the citizenry, “to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
What gives this proclamation even more significance is that the country was still locked in the fierce battles of the Civil War when Lincoln proclaimed this new tradition of making a day of Thanksgiving. The horrific loss of life at Gettysburg and in other battles were still vividly fresh in his mind. But Lincoln believed that, in the fight for the survival of the country, an important corner had been turned and the end was in sight. He believed that the union would not fall. He believed that despite great difficulties and the most challenging circumstances, the war would be won.
The president’s proclamation of Thanksgiving was a milestone in the final chapter of the war. Even though the war would drag on for 18 more terrible months, Lincoln was right: the United States would survive. It was in this context that President Lincoln called for a National Day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated “with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.”
Despite the losses, it was President Lincoln’s vision that at Thanksgiving we would look to the future with hopefulness and optimism. The table he called us to share became our Thanksgiving feast and an anchor for hope in the prospect of peace and a return to normal life.
As we approach this Thanksgiving, I am thankful. For the personal blessings of family and health. For our country and our freedoms. For each of you and the work we do together.
With a heart of gratitude, I pray for the communities and those we serve. I am praying for you and all those you love. May we each rejoice and give thanks in all things during this Thanksgiving holiday.