The First Thanksgiving?
One of each kind of bread must be presented as a gift to the LORD. It will then belong to the priest who splatters the blood of the peace offering against the altar. The meat of the peace offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the same day it is offered. None of it may be saved for the next morning.
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?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: I've already asked plenty of questions in the last two paragraphs. So let me encourage you to 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?
PRAYER: Gracious God, how glad I am that Leviticus 7 and the peace offering for thanksgiving has come along right now. Help me to discover new ways for the 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.
Yet, Leviticus 7 challenges me to think, not just about one day, but about my whole life. Do I pause to give you special "sacrifices" of thanksgiving, or do I rush through life taking your gifts for granted? Do I share my thanks with others, so that we might celebrate together? Do I think of worship as something to be shared with others? Are there ever times in my life when my friends, family, and I share a meal with you? And who else might we welcome into this circle?
Finally, dear Lord Jesus, I thank you for your table, for the chance to commune with you and your people as we share the bread and the cup. May our communion be filled with thanksgiving for your saving grace! Amen.