This year, for the first time in many years, my congregation did not have a Thanksgiving Day worship service. We still participated in an ecumenical Thanksgiving Eve service, as we have for many years, but we did not gather at 10:00 a.m. in the Sanctuary and sing "Come, Ye Thankful People Come", and "Sing to the Lord of Harvest". (One of our families always says that it isn't Thanksgiving until we've sung that particular hymn.)
The Thanksgiving Day service has a long and illustrious history at this congregation. Our former church administrator, who grew up at this church, told me that back in the 1950s and 1960s, the sanctuary was full on Thanksgiving Day -- all with men and their children, worshipping while their wives prepared the feast. To be honest, I couldn't even imagine that. Crowds have not been so impressive the last few years, although the singing has always been pretty enthusiastic. Singing the Thanksgiving hymns has always been my favorite part of the service.
This year, instead of going over to church and finding the bulletins in the usher's closet, I got up early and went to my mom's house, so that we could prepare the dinner together. I haven't prepared a Thanksgiving dinner in years, since I have always had worship responsibilities in the morning. But since I had the day free, my mom and I decided we'd do it together. I had come over briefly the evening before, to help prepare the stuffing and get the turkey ready. In the morning, we set the oven and stuffed and basted, set the table and and put out the decorations. We made salads and cup up vegetables and wiped down counters, and took a couple of breaks with coffee.
Then my brother arrived, with his grown children. They went over to the nursing home and picked up my dad. My husband, his mother and his son arrived a little later. We took trips down to the social room where we got everything ready to be served.
And we prayed: "Come Lord Jesus/Be our Guest/Let these Gifts/To Us be Blest. Amen"
My brother and I did a little impromptu singing: a couple of little-known songs from the Bing Crosby Christmas Album. We tried to engage my dad, but he was not joining in, at least not then. We wheeled him out to the piano, where he listened to my husband and my nephew play for a little while. During the pumpkin pie, though, my dad started to smile, and when I tried again to sing a little of "I'll Be Home for Christmas," he said, simply, "Bing Crosby."
"Do you remember when they sang that song, Dad?" I asked. I answered myself, "It was during World War II."
Later on, my brother took my dad back to the nursing home, and we vacuumed the floor and put the leftovers in little tubs to send home with people. I gave my neice a pair of homemade footies that I had been working on for an impossibly long time. She liked them, and that made me thankful.
So, I didn't sing "Come, Ye Faithful People Come" this year, and I supposed I missed hearing that song in the foreground, with the stalwart members of my congregation. But I still heard their voices in the background, the memories of the voices of my community the foundation of my Holy Work on Thanksgiving.
This meal we prepared together, my mom and I, this is Holy Work too, isn't it? This table we set and the conversation we shared, this is Holy Work too. It is not just when I break the bread in the congregation that I am doing Holy Work.
Don't get me wrong: I love being a pastor, and I give thanks for the opportunity that I have to consecrate bread and wine, to speak words of grace, to gather and to send out people into God's world. I am thankful for this Holy Work. But I am thankful for the opportunity to wipe down the table and to sing with my Dad, and to lift the turkey out of the oven with my mom as well.
I could still hear "Come Ye Faithful People Come" in the background.