To the pilgrims . . . elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. Peter 1:1
Several years ago my daughter and her husband were far from home when a business acquaintance invited them share Thanksgiving dinner. They were glad for the invitation, but also slightly uneasy. New to both the area and the people, they were not sure what traditions might be observed.
They were quickly put at ease when the meal was served and the host said familiar words; “Shall we give thanks?” But, when they bowed their heads, they quickly realized they were not at home. All around the table the guest turned to each other to express appreciation for the past year. Business had been good, kind deeds had been done, friendships had grown. “Thank you” was said over and over as smiles passed from one to the other and all congratulated themselves on a year well spent.
Carefully yielding to the lead of their host, they joined in the expressions of mutual appreciation, but with both the pilgrims and God missing, the holiday did not feel much like “Thanksgiving” any longer.
The dictionary defines a “pilgrim” as “one who journeys a long distance to some sacred place.” It is a definition that fits for both the early Puritans who left England hoping for freedom in a new land as well as the modern Christian moving heavenward through this often unfriendly world.
Christians are called “pilgrims” twice in the Bible. Both the author of Hebrews (11:13) and First Peter (1:1) use the word to comfort and encourage those who have become weary with their journey. By addressing them as “pilgrims” they were reminded that they were not home yet and for a true pilgrim, thankfulness is the concrete evidence that their future home is real and can seen through the eyes of faith.
During the years my children were home, I tried to instill only two Thanksgiving traditions. The first was a pair of six inch dolls made from corn shucks. One wore a black dress with white apron and bonnet, while the other was dressed all in black with a tall, buckled hat. They were pilgrims. The second was gratitude verses from the Bible written in various forms and placed around the room.
These traditions were not elaborate. Not much effort was spent on preparation and only a small amount of time was dedicated to discussing either the dolls or the scripture passages. But, through the years the message of those silent witnesses must have taken root. When among strangers it was easy for my daughter to remember that the holiday was more than mutual pats on the back while dinner companions expressed gratitude toward each other. It was about remembering historical pilgrims and the fact that every Christian is personally a pilgrim, too. Then, because of that memory, we aim thankfulness upward toward the God who made them both.