Thanksgiving in the Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has not only infected people but conversations and interactions as well. It has even clouded the discussion of Thanksgiving. Some see the holiday as a threat to public safety while others see it as an opportunity to exert their rights. As we approach Thanksgiving in the pandemic, we should call to mind that first celebratory feast. It was not merely a milestone but a cornerstone for a Christian community.

The Deadly Venture

According to the records kept by the Plymouth settlers, over forty percent of the original pilgrims died during the first winter. Though malnutrition and disease were the immediate causes for most of those deaths, we could say those deaths were inherent to the risky American adventure. Yet by spring when the Mayflower departed on its return voyage to Europe, none of the settlers chose to go with it. They had counted the risk worth it when they departed England, and they counted the risk worth it after they had buried dear friends and family. The pilgrims did not endure suffering and death in order to escape government authority. They had ventured all for the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their consciences.

The pilgrims believed it was worth dying for the freedom to worship God because he was worthy of their worship.

Responsive Worship

We often think of freedom of worship as a political idea; however, it has its basis in theology. The word worship carries the idea of ascribing, recognizing, or proclaiming the worth of someone or something. Similarly, the word worthy conveys the idea of meriting those expressions of worth. The pilgrims believed it was worth dying for the freedom to worship God because he was worthy of their worship.

All religions have their zealots, but the Christian’s zeal is unique. It is both a deeply personal and Spirit empowered response to the Father who gave his infinitely dear Son to die for the undeserving and ill-deserving sinner. Where others may be motivated by fear or ambition, the Christian’s zeal is driven by love and gratitude.

Paul’s Example

It is not as though God is not worthy of fear for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10). The apostle Paul said, “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). But he also said, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:14-14).

Saul the self-righteous persecutor of the church was motivated by religious ambition until God stopped him in his tracks not with wrath but with grace. For the sake of others, he became one of the most zealous proclaimers of the gospel and endured tremendous hardship and suffering (often sacrificing his rights) while thankful for the privilege of serving Christ. He wrote the following to Timothy from prison.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Tim. 1:12-17)

Our Celebration

This Thanksgiving in the pandemic let us by all means make every effort to protect our loved ones and neighbors. The holiday is not about our rights, but about God’s worth. That worth is reflected in those who bear his image. However, the primary focus for Thanksgiving is not safety but worship, because our Savior died not to make us safe but to make us holy, free from the bondage of sin and fear of death. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

See also…

Peace in the Pandemic

peace from trust in God

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