I'm not big on ritual. Traditions yes, but not rituals. Too often rituals are practiced so frequently that they become just meaningless repetition. Yet, there are rituals so heavy with meaning that they strike a chord and touch your heart and become interwoven with your basic faith.
Though that faith can be lovingly secular, and often is, I found that biblical Last Supper to be something that has always struck me as something that we can all relate to. When Jesus sat down for the last meal he would share with his disciples he used the most modest bread and wine to illustrate the gift of himself in his last hours. The bread symbolizes the body and the wine, the blood. Owning no property and having no wealth, it was all He could give those closest to him; those who had shared his days and nights, his joy and his pain.
And like all of his generosities, our creator offers us far more. For more than three centuries we Americans have been blessed with bountiful and productive land, temperate weather in which to grow our bounty, and a societal system that allows us to share that bounty more equitably than at any time in man's history.
I need not tell you the story of the first Thanksgiving. I need not say that, had not our creator chosen to soften the hearts of a group of Plymouth Indians, the Pilgrims would most surely have died out in that first winter. But Thanksgiving has always been more than the story of that first winter. Somehow, a polyglot of English, German, Irish, African, Swedish, Italian, Hispanics and others melded together in such a way that the generosity of the hearth and home has become a national tradition. De Tocqueville marveled at American hospitality as early as the 1820's, at our first blossoming. "They are a kind sort, generous beyond measure, open and friendly and without the strangling class consciousness so prevalent among our European nations."
But we can bring the tradition of the Thanksgiving dinner down to an ever more basic level. Just as Jesus offered the "body and the blood", we mortals offer something of ourselves each time we sit down to supper with family and friends. The meal itself is an affirmation that God is generous to a fault, that he has seen to our basic needs. And we, as a conduit, summon up the love and caring to prepare the meal, as an offering of ourselves.
Oh, we can liken a cup of coffee and a cupcake as payback for another's kindness, sharing joy at a birth, grief at a funeral, a morning visit to lift your spirits when they needed lifting the most. Those coffee and cupcake offerings are simply little paybacks, a small comfort in reciprocation for all the many kindnesses extended to you through the years.
But it is that huge Thanksgiving Dinner that bears testament to the love and generosity you feel toward those you hold most dear. It is the grand presentation of "self", the many hours of planning and preparation you invest in the year's grandest dinner that makes Thanksgiving such a spectacular event!
And yes, we must accept your "blood and wine" with grace and appreciation. We must joyfully stuff ourselves with turkey and mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce and hot rolls and pumpkin pie! We must! To do less is to disappoint the host! To practice moderation is to reject the kindness of the giver!
So we stuff ourselves to prove the bounty of our creator's gifts. The last of the crops were harvested under a harvest moon, the smokehouse is full, the spring and summer vegetables have been canned, now sheltered in the basement and the cellar and we are all now prepared to live out the winter and await the first new buds of spring.
And should friend or mere stranger come to our door, we'll offer the hospitality and warmth of the home...for He who gave all that he had to give, the "body and the blood", taught us that it is the right thing to do. And may we all be thankful for that lesson and for that blessing.