Thanksgiving in the Midst of a Pandemic — Revisited
As we draw closer to the end of another year, we begin reflecting on all that has transpired over the last many months. In the process, it is easy to become quite melancholy with regard to how short-lived were the good things, as well as how long-lived are many of the bad. For example, isn’t it shocking that the Covid pandemic still has not passed? Who would have thought -last November that all the suffering, deaths, stress on our healthcare system, frustrating lockdowns, and mask mandates would still be plaguing us? Throw in the divisive controversy over forced vaccinations and threats of job losses and punishments of all kinds for the unvaccinated and in many ways life in these United States almost appears worse than last November. Who is not weighed down by anxiety, worry, and perhaps even outright fear of what is yet to come?
As our National Day of Thanksgiving approaches, it’s quite conceivable that many might question what we have to be thankful for. Anxiety by its very definition means to be without peace arid contentment. It means being on the edge, fearful and uncertain. It is like having a heavy black: a pall of dread covering our every waking moment and smothering our nights with terrors. Given the level of our anxiety, how can we be expected to observe Thanksgiving Day or be thankful?
Listen to the Lord’s apostle Paul’s prescription for our anxiety as recorded in the fourth chapter of Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known.to God. And the: peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).
Clearly, Paul sees being thankful as part and parcel of the solution to our anxiety, not something that is unfitting our situation. However, if we look carefully, we see that the thanksgiving Paul speaks of is far and beyond any sense of partying or reveling in our pleasures. In other words, Paul is not speaking of simply being thankful for what you and I like or what is in accordance with our will or even what makes us feel good. Anyone can be thankful under such circumstances as these... Rather, he says be thankful “in all things.” Would not “all things” include those things we don’t like, what is contrary to our will, or even what makes us feel bad? Of course, it does. All things mean all things! This, then, makes thanksgiving a true condition of the heart; a condition that transcends everything, even not very pleasant things or unhappy things.
This same apostle of the Lord says in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans that such a condition of a thankful heart can only exist where there is faith that God works all things together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose and that God has not abandoned us to our enemies but that He is for us; that He did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all and that Jesus: was raised and is even now at the right hand of God – interceding for us (Romans 8).
It’s this faith; this solid trust, in God’s grace and promises that moved that ancient servant of God named Job, at the very height of his misery, to ask the rhetorical question, “Can we accept good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10) In total contrast to the fatalism expressed. by his wife that he should, as she urged him, simply curse God and die, Job was seeing that God was allowing all of his worldly. possessions and pleasures to be stripped away from him to teach him that God. was still good to him despite how it all looked from a worldly perspective. Job was convinced that he hadn’t deserved all those earthly good things anyway and that. God in His goodness and graciousness was using these. losses in his earthly life to bring about true and lasting good for him in His eternal life. Job’s biggest problem was that he struggled to try to figure out what that good was.
Despite our present adversity, God has not ceased to be good to us. In fact, He is being our Good and faithful Teacher. One would have to be spiritually blind not to see the good God has been working through all that has come upon us. We are daily being taught once again that there are worse things than dying and that is to lose faith and hope. We are being taught that our eternal hope of living forever in the glory of God's presence, won and guaranteed to us in Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected, cannot be stolen away from us by a virus or anything else. After all, the nails placed in Jesus’ hands and feet have permanently nailed shut the coffin that contains sin, death, and the devil. We are being assured that Jesus’ presence with us cannot be taken from us by mandatory quarantines or civil lockdown orders. God has not cast us aside and abandoned us. He is keeping His promise to be with us always, bringing us the gifts of His grace in His Word and Sacraments as we are free to regularly receive them in the worship assembly (Matt. 28:19,20; John 15: 7, Matt. 26:26-28). We are being reminded that His promises cannot be nullified by politicians and governments and that societal unrest and civil strife cannot rob us of the eternal peace God gives us in Jesus. Daily we are being reminded that our salvation is not a vaccine but it is the blood of Christ. Yes, we are being taught that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39).
Thanks be to God, therefore, for this adversity. It is God's university to educate us with the knowledge of the truth that baffles all human reason and defies all human logic but leaves in our hearts the peace that surpasses all understanding and will guide our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In this peace we can truly put away all anxiety and “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let our requests be made known to God.”
Right in the midst of this ongoing pandemic, I invite you to join me and your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ this National Day of Thanksgiving, November 2S, at 1 0:30 am, as together we listen to our Savior's assuring Word and with thanksgiving present our requests and concerns to God our Savior!
All thanks be to God and our Savior Jesus Christ!