Today Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving, a day set aside for remembering God and thanking him for his blessings. Around this time, we often remember what we call "the first thanksgiving," a gathering in 1621 of the Pilgrims who had come to the new world, as well as neighboring Native American tribes who had helped them get established here.
But there were earlier "thanksgivings," some going back several millennia. In Leviticus 7, for example, we read about a special kind of offering known as the "peace offering" or the "fellowship offering" (7:11). One variety of peace offering was a special expression of thanksgiving to God (7:12). It included the usual animal sacrifice, but added various kinds of bread, both leavened and unleavened (7:12-13). One of each kind of bread was offered to the Lord, along with the animal that was sacrificed. But the bread was to be eaten by the priest, and the meat of the peace offering eaten by the one who offered it, along with his or her companions (7:14-15).
What Leviticus describes is actually a precursor to our own Thanksgiving feast. Select meat and varieties of breads, after they were offered to God, were then eaten in celebration. No, they didn't enjoy turkey with stuffing. But the thanksgiving feasts described in Leviticus were lavish and delightful.
Notice also who participates in these meals. The priests have their part. The worshiper and clan have their part. And God has his part as well. The sacrificial tradition encourages people to understand their celebration as shared with the Lord. Thus, worship is not only a way for an individual to offer thanks and praise to God, but also an occasion for people to share together in God's blessing and bounty.
As we reflect upon Leviticus 7, we might ask ourselves about our own practices. When we gather with God's people for worship services, do we see them as times for the Lord and for fellowship with his people? Do we connect our worship with our community? How about when we receive the Lord's Supper together?
And what about our Thanksgiving traditions? Many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Will this day be more than just a time to watch football and enjoy a lavish feast? Will God somehow be present in our celebration? Are there things we might do to recognize God's presence, to make our Thanksgiving practices more fully an occasion for giving thanks?
Think and Pray
Consider your understanding and practices concerning worship, meals, and Thanksgiving Day. How might the example of Leviticus help you to experience God and his grace more fully?
Gracious God, help me to discover new ways for today’s Thanksgiving celebration to be truly a sacrifice of thanks to You, a time to praise You and to celebrate Your presence in a shared meal.
By Mark D. Roberts. Published by The High Calling. Used with Permission. Theology of Work Project Online Materials by The High Calling are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.