November 22, 2010
A few weeks ago, Cheri and I were in London on a week-long multi-focus trip (in large part, a Sabbath break to renew, but also a “working trip:” to sow seeds for a possible Master’s Program entry into England). It included the opportunity to introduce friends to friends: two American couples, living as “ex-pats” in London.
A few days ago, I was copied in an e-mail exchange between the two couples: they’re getting together on Thursday this week, for dinner; not in a restaurant, but in one of their homes. Agenda: it’s Thanksgiving.
They haven’t gone very deep in conversation yet; they haven’t had the opportunity. They’re “new friends.” But that can follow; for right now, the common denominator that makes dinner on Thursday a date is their identity as Americans. It’s Thanksgiving!
A day celebrated through history, based on an epic story: a beleaguered people group who reach a place of overwhelming oppression in a place they could never call “home.” Driven by their desperation, they embrace a vision for rescue that involves perilous adventure and life-threatening circumstances. They arrive at their destination and begin a new life that, over time, is everything they had hoped, and more. To commemorate their story, a holiday feast is established to recount and remember their past, so that future generations would understand the origins of what could now be taken for granted.
If this was a game show, you could shout, “Thanksgiving!” as your answer for that definition, and you would be right. But there are more answers that would apply…
If you were Jewish, you might hear the description and shout, “Passover!” and the judges would have to grant you the prize. For the Thanksgiving pilgrims, their place of desperation was England; for the Jews, their history placed them in Egypt where slavery and abuse was their daily regimen.
Both commemorations follow a script: a common history, a retelling of the rescue that took the condemned from bondage to freedom, with hardship in-between. A set menu – lamb for the Jews, turkey for the Americans – woven into the story. The epic becomes personal as the people around the table consider the great blessings they enjoy because of the heroic adventure of those who came before them.
There’s another answer that flows out of that dramatic retelling. It’s not the American classic, and it isn’t the Exodus redux. What is it?
The beleaguered people were called “sinners.” Their place of oppression was “religion” that was empty and ineffective. The rescue plan was conceived in heaven – before Creation – and brought to earth by God, Himself. It involved the people, but it featured the Champion: the Son of God: Jesus, the Christ. The “perilous adventure and life-threatening circumstances” were all His, from Christmas to Easter. The rescue was effective: the sinners were delivered from religion to redemption, but they only watched the drama. All the work was His; all of the benefit is theirs (ours).
The Jews sit around the Passover table to celebrate their rescue from Egyptian oppression, millennia ago. The Americans sit around the Thanksgiving table to celebrate their rescue from English oppression, centuries ago. The Christians sit around the Lord’s Table (communion) to celebrate their rescue from religion’s oppression… and the date of that rescue was the day of their conversion.
The menu isn’t lamb or turkey: it’s bread and wine. The “main course” is the Lamb of God. The story warrants retelling, regularly.
The other folks in London won’t understand what those crazy Americans are doing on Thursday. Gentiles don’t understand Passover. Lost people don’t get the crackers and juice…