Thanks be to God!

by Pastor Heath Howe, Family Ministries

"It looks like Thanksgiving! At my house a lot of people gather!" he answered with both delight and recognition. When I looked again, I realized he was right. The images before us did look like a family gathered around a table on Thanksgiving Day with our Lord, the incarnation of Love, right at the center.

Let me explain.

I have had the privilege of meeting with our 3rd and 4th graders for Sunday school this fall. Our curriculum for these children is a deep study of the sacrament of Holy Communion. We call this class Solemn Communion. We do not celebrate First Communion at this age, as many Roman Catholics do, because most of our children begin receiving the sacrament at baptism. However, like our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters we do see a need for some pedagogy around this holy event, which is at the center of our liturgical life together; thus a class called Solemn Communion was created.

The scripture passages we use to unpack the theology of Holy Communion come mostly from the Gospel of John, and we use wooden manipulatives to enhance the learning all the more. This fall our 3rd and 4th graders have considered the story of the Good Shepherd and the True Vine. We have wondered together what it must be like to be a part of the sheepfold where even the lost are found and returned to the circle of love. We have wondered further about how powerful it is to be connected to the True Vine, and we delighted in how the sap that feeds the True Vine runs into the branches, connecting all. We noticed how intimate it is to be a branch on that vine, and we thought maybe the sap that runs through the True Vine might actually be Love.

One Sunday, at the beginning of our lesson I placed before the children a wooden circle covered with green felt. I placed the lovely green vine along side it to remind the children of the True Vine story. I then placed the sheepfold, with its wooden sheep and shepherd figure, we had been using for several weeks next to the new green field. I then explained, "The Good Shepherd leads to the sheep to the good grass, a special place, and they come. Slowly, the children watched as the shepherd and sheep moved out of the sheepfold and onto the new green felt circle. I asked the children who the shepherd might really be. "Jesus," they answered confidently. "I wonder who the sheep might really be," I asked. "Us," one whispered. Others nodded. Slowly, small wooden people of every color and nationality lined the rim of the circle. Next a small wooden table was placed in the center. On the table was placed a tiny wooden chalice and patten. "The Good Shepherd is with us in the bread and the wine," I explained as I removed the Good Shepherd figure. We all sat for almost a full minute in silence as we looked at the circle of people gathered around a long table with one chalice and one patten on it. Finally, I asked, "I wonder...Does this remind you of any place you have ever been?" With great delight, a young boy said, "It looks like Thanksgiving!..."

What continued after this was a discussion about The Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharist. The children began to make the connection between the Eucharist on Sunday morning and not only the meal on Thanksgiving Day but any meal we share anytime we gather and break bread, with friends and family. "So every Sunday is like another Thanksgiving," one of them said with real clarity, "...and God's at the center and all kinds of people come."

If only we could remember that each week. It seems at times we forget that we gather on Sundays around our holy table to not only ask for God's forgiveness or help but also to give thanks for all we have been given and called to be. Do not wait to give thanks at the end of this month. Begin now. Decide to dedicate the entire month of November to giving thanks to God and let our gathering Sunday morning at Holy Comforter for the Great Thanksgiving set the tone. For the rest of each week find other moments when you can gather around a table with others or alone, break bread, and give thanks. You may find yourself at a huge feast as many of us do on Thanksgiving Day or you may find yourself at a small gathering. Either way, love is at the center.

Finally, and in many ways most importantly, may we never forget that "all kinds of people come." Who is missing when we celebrate The Great Thanksgiving? Who is wanting or needing to be invited? Who is God calling you to love, feed, and include during the week? We must remember we are called to the table to be fed so we can go out. Go out and call those who have not heard the voice of the Good Shepherd or who have forgotten they are a branch on the Vine.

Happy Thanksgiving Month!