Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (read the whole passage)
Earlier this week, a New York Times food columnist wrote about “Canadian Thanksgiving.” His article was about the surprising but little known holiday of Canadian Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. He wrote about the quieter nature of Canadian Thanksgiving that sadly and unimaginatively mirrors the American one in menu and traditions. He thought that there could be something uniquely Canadian that would make Canadian Thanksgiving our own.
The Canadian Thanksgiving for most of us sounds funny, because for us there is just Thanksgiving, and then American Thanksgiving, which seems to be an excuse to have a shopping holiday on Black Friday.
And so this weekend, as we gather with family and friends around mashed potatoes, turkey and football to celebrate “Canadian Thanksgiving,” it may be worth considering where this holiday came from.
While the legends are that the roots of Thanksgiving takes its roots from the pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and sharing a feast with the indigenous people that they met in the new world… the reality is that people have been giving thanks around the time of harvest for hundreds of years before the discovery of the new world.
And so for us in Canada, Thanksgiving has been a time to give thanks for all the things that we have been blessed with. To give thanks for the harvest after a long summer of plowing, planting, growing and harvesting.
But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t celebrating thanksgiving for those reasons. Its not like this is the one time of year when we have enough extra food to have a feast. We could probably afford a turkey dinner most days if we really wanted one.
Thanksgiving for us is much more about the time spent with loved ones. We might be able to have turkey whenever we want, but finding the time to be with family and friends… well, that is something we are often desperate for. In fact, unlike the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, or the extended families working on prairie farms 100 years ago who lived, worked and spent most time together, family time and rest time is very scarce for us. And thanksgiving might one of 2 or 3 times a year when families get to spend quality time together.
We might even get desperate to make this weekend special, with stressing over food and decorations, fighting and bickering because we already sad to say goodbye to loved ones before they arrive, trying to bring back the memories and feelings of the past that we forget to let new memories be made in the now.
As much as Thanksgiving is a chance to be with family and have that moment to pause and relax and just be… it can just as much be that painful reminder of the deep void that we all carry within us. The emptiness that never seems to be filled. The pain of loss and suffering that is never quite healed. The longing for something more than ourselves that we try to fill with things and stuff. That need for meaning in our lives that we push aside with mindless tv or endless internet surfing. That search for happiness that too often ends in substance abuse and addiction, that the next hit never fulfills.
Thanksgiving, like any holiday or time that we try to fill with nostalgia and sentimentalism, can all too often be a reminder of the great void at centre of beings, that we just don’t know how to fill.
Wow… This is a depressing thanksgiving sermon.
Maybe the bible can help? or that Jesus fellow we like talking about in church?
Well, today, when the crowds are following Jesus around the lake, they are clearly looking for something. While they pretend to be surprised to have come upon Jesus, he knows that they are out searching for something to fill their voids. They are doing the same thing that we are often trying to do on Thanksgiving weekend and Jesus calls them on it. These crowds have just experienced the miracles of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus turned 5 barley loaves and two small fish into enough to feed thousands. And the crowds having experienced this miracles from heaven want more.
More food that is.
The crowds that are following Jesus are probably serial messiah followers. You see, in Jesus’ day, messiahs were a dime a dozen. There were leaders of small religious groups around every corner. Charismatic people who convinced people that they had the solutions to all their problems. The Messiahs promised that they would show people the path to righteousness, or that they would raise an army to oust the Roman occupiers, of that they would make their followers rich… or that they would make the nation great again. And the crowds would follow each would be messiah like the flavour of the week. The messiah they were following last week would different than the one followed now, and the one they would be following next.
And Jesus knows this. “You just want more bread” he scolds the crowds with.
“So show us a sign, that you are real deal” they respond.
The crowds don’t realize they are just following a cycle of disappointment, going from one messiah to the next. They are desperate people, looking for hope anywhere. And each time, they want this messiah to be the one who will fill their voids, who will give them something to hold on to.
But Jesus doesn’t give them a sign. All the other messiahs had signs and miracles too.
Instead, Jesus reminds them of the truths that they have been taught for generations. The manna, the bread from heaven that their ancestors were given did not come from Moses. Or in other words, Jesus reminds the desperate crowds that falling just another messiah in the hopes that this will be the one is not who they are.
Jesus reminds them that is is not Messiahs with big promises, it is not Thanksgiving dinners, it is not seeking after the next hit, is not trying to fill our empty voids with junk that satisfies.
Jesus reminds the crowds that is was God who provided the manna, the bread from heaven.
And then the crowds see.
It wasn’t signs that they needed. It wasn’t more bread. It wasn’t more stuff. It wasn’t more distraction. It wasn’t more escape. It wasn’t more of what they once had.
Jesus reminds them WHO it is that gives true bread from heaven.
Jesus reminds us WHO it is that can fill that void centre of our being, WHO it is that will give us that bread of life. Only God can relieve the our hungry void. Only God can fill our thirsty emptiness.
This weekend, as we sit at Thanksgiving tables desperate for the thing that will fill our empty voids, to satisfy the longing that we carry for something or someone to finally give us what we need… it won’t be the turkey, or the memories, or the stuff in our lives, or the escapes we seek out that will fill us. It will be those moments when we reach out across the table with open and empty hands and say, “pass the potatoes.”
It will be when we look into the eyes of those that we love, and recognize that we are loved, that we will be filled.
Because, those moments of recognizing love in others begins here first. It begins with the open hands and open hearts that we bring to God’s table.
As we come with our voids held out and open, God says to us “the Body of Christ given for you. You are now a part of me and I am a part of you.”
As we come with the emptiness deep inside of us ready to be filled, God says to us, “the Blood of Christ, shed for you. I will fill you with my love, and you will not thirst”
Here, in this Body that is the church, in this family of Christ, we are reminded of what we have been taught for generations. That true bread from heaven, bread that leaves us full inside, that fills our voids and our longing… that God gives us this bread.
That here, at the Lord’s table of Thanksgiving, God gives us the true Thanksgiving meal.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”