By Rev. Woody Bowman 11/15/09
Psalm 106: 1 – 5
2 Corinthians 9:6 – 15
John 2: 1 – 11; John 6:11; Acts 27:35
Jesus Comes to Thanksgiving Dinner
Jesus has nothing to do with the origins of our Thanksgiving holiday. But I can assure you he would enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner.
Yes, Thanksgiving is a historical, national, and religious holiday that reflects a Judeo-Christian ethos; and it also reflects the gratefulness of Protestant Christian Pilgrim settlers for their survival in the New World, and the continued gratefulness of the American people for their general civic and personal well being.
But unlike Christmas or Easter, Thanksgiving is not about Jesus; there will never be a campaign to keep Christ in Thanksgiving.
But, if we can understand why Jesus would relish a Thanksgiving dinner with any one of us, not only might we anticipate our own Thanksgiving celebrations with even more whole-heartedness, but we might better grasp a vital aspect of Christianity.
That vital aspect is this: Christianity is a profoundly materialistic religion.
Christianity is profoundly materialistic, not in the sense of drive toward the acquisition of material goods, not at all, but with a deep concern and interest in the physical world.
And that concern and interest in the physical world leads to a variety of crucial inclinations, commitments, and aspirations: it leads to the care of our bodies; it leads to an appreciation of our physical capacities and pleasure; it leads to the care of the physical Creation around us and to an attentiveness to what is beautiful, and to the places, settings, and events of our lives; and it leads to the care of the physical needs of others – as well as a deeper appreciation for celebration, festivity, and feasts.
And this materialistic rootedness of Christianity is grounded in two essential Biblical commitments: The first is that God created this world – “And it was good,” Genesis states –
and that shapes all authentic Christian responses to the world around us. The second is that Jesus is God incarnate, God in human flesh, taking on all the physical qualities and attributes of human existence, and because the Eternal God has become human flesh, matter matters.
I’m drawn to a vivid statement by Ron Sider, the provocative author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Beginning with an exclamation, ”God loves feasts!” Sider continues on:
“God created a gorgeous world full of splendor and beauty and wants us to enjoy it. Of course we should not overeat every day. And we must share sacrificially with the poor. But celebrations from time to time are pleasing to the Creator.
“ We should celebrate (Thanksgiving and) Christmas because biblical faith is profoundly incarnational. Unlike some Eastern religions, Christianity says the material world is very good. So good the Creator of the galaxies became flesh. So good the Incarnate One loved banquets and feasts and marriage celebrations. So good the Crucified One rose bodily from the dead. So good that when he returns, he promises a feast – the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
So, let’s test this out: Jesus comes to your Thanksgiving dinner.
I want you to envision Jesus actually being present for dinner at your home. You’re hosting a family gathering, two dozen relatives from near and far. How do you envision that going? What would you anticipate happening or not happening if Jesus came to dinner? Would Jesus have welcomed your invitation and responded right away – or would you have had to remind him several times and then twist his arm?
What would Jesus bring as his contribution to the dinner? Would you be glad he brought what he brought? How would Jesus handle himself in the setting of the dinner and the family gathering? Hanging back? Back-slapper? In quiet conversation? Middle of the crowd?
How would he respond to your uncle who lost his wife last summer? How would he engage the eminent, but decidedly non-religious scientist who married your older sibling? How would he handle your really awkward nephew? Or your tipsy aunt, the one who always makes a scene.
How would he respond to your burnt roast or the rising panic in the kitchen as the football games begin on TV and dinner is still not ready? What would he say? What are you afraid he might say? What doesn’t he say? What do you envision when Jesus comes to your Thanksgiving dinner?
The New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life give us a lot to work with.
For one, the gospels record Jesus sharing meals and celebrations with others on numerous occasions: Jesus attended a formal banquet with the tax collector, Matthew, and was joined by other tax collectors and other sinners (Mtt 9:10). Jesus was invited to dinner by a Pharisee (Luke 7:36) and invited himself to what was probably a lavish dinner with the wealthy Zacchaeus (Lk 19:6). There were modest family gatherings in Bethany (Lk 10:40, John 12:2) and the interrupted meal with disciples in Emmaus on the first Easter Day (Lk 24).
Jesus participated in all sorts of meals and taught in parables that used the images of meals and feast; as well, he also provided basic food to large groups of hungry followers – and superb wine to a wedding party.
In a culture in which shared meals and hospitality were enormously important, Jesus was not only present, but an active participant in radically inclusive table fellowship and a welcomed guest, all important to understanding his Kingdom ethics, the warmth of his relationships ,and his embrace of the physicality of common human life.
The account of the miracle at the wedding in Cana recorded in the Gospel of John
overflows with meaning; John calls it the first of Jesus’ signs, meaningful itself, but pointing to something far more. This sign bore witness to the glory of Christ, and as a result, his disciples believed in him.
There’s so much in this passage that calls for consideration, but I want to focus on several simple elements:
I find it significant that Jesus’ mother was an honored guest with a sense of communal responsibility. Mary took the initiative to get Jesus involved when the wine ran out – a potential disruption of the wedding festivity and a slur on the hospitality of the bridegroom
and his family hosting the event. Mary trusted Jesus could do something and anticipated he would care, and then instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. Jesus and his mother were full participants in a larger fabric of shared social relationships that mattered to both of them. There were real family and social relationships.
I find it meaningful that Jesus and the disciples were invited to this wedding feast – their presence was desired and Jesus was at home in such a setting. And Jesus’ attendance at the wedding feast shows that he cares about the happy occasions of life as well as the sad,
that he knew the human desire to celebrate, that he joined with a young couple and their families and friends in a joyous occasion.
I find it intriguing that Jesus not only performed the miracle of water into wine, a very good wine, yet did it with little fanfare. Jesus responded to an intense practical need with a miracle, providing additional wine that was better than the wine originally offered, but then left it to another person, the steward or head waiter, to make any deal of it, if at all. There was no compulsion on Jesus’ part to take credit – there was no calling attention, no flashy flourish,
Rather, Jesus quietly but powerfully acted on behalf of others in sympathy, in kindness, in quiet understanding, and let it stand.
But the miracle at Cana stood as an opportunity for faith by his disciples and stands so for us today.
Jesus is invited to a wedding in Cana; Jesus would come to your Thanksgiving dinner.
Jesus is deeply embedded in a real world of real relationships, practical concerns, and physical realities. He embraces the world God created as good, even if broken, and calls us to be participants with him in that world, seeking his Kingdom, caring for God’s creation, serving others, celebrating the good things in life, and giving thanks.
As you look toward this holiday season during which there will be all sorts of gatherings, celebrations, and festivities, do so with joy and thanksgiving and growing faith – and know that Jesus does accept your invitation.
Charles W. Bowman
Chilmark Community Church
November 15, 2009
Note: Ron Sider’s quote is from his article, “Christians and Materialism: Is It ‘Godly’?” found in his collection of columns from Prism magazine, I Am Not A Social Activist: Making Jesus the Agenda.