Homily: Thanksgiving Day, 2007

Text: John 6: 25-34


Twenty years ago a film came out that became one of those instant classics that shaped the imagination and vocabulary of a generation, it was called “The Princess Bride.” Based on the novel by the same name, the film was a fairy tale – one part action to one part romance – centering on the story of two youthful lovers separated by fate and struggling to be reunited. But the story’s charm is its cast of characters, funny and flawed and entirely memorable.

In one of my favorite scenes the movie’s hero, Wesley, climbs up the rocky side of a cliff in order to rescue his princess. Vizzini, the Sicilian mastermind of a group of kidnappers, peers over the side of the cliff and sees that they’re being followed and cries out, “Inconceivable!” To which his companion, the Spaniard swordsman Inigo Montoya replies, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I’m reminded of that scene as I read over the gospel text for this morning. There Jesus carries on a conversation with a crowd who have come to him for miracles and signs, trying to make it clear to them that God has given them the ultimate sign of God’s love and providence, but they just aren’t getting it. Jesus keeps saying, “you’ve just been given a HUGE gift!” to which the crowd keeps saying, “inconceivable!”

The entire passage actually centers around words being used and misunderstood as Jesus tries to explain the graciousness of God’s love. When you read the passage in Greek you see a funny word game taking place: Jesus warns them about laboring to receive a gift of imperishable food – the crowd asks what they must do to receive the gift. Jesus says, “you are looking for me,” the crowd asks, “what sign are you going to give us?” It is as though the whole idea of what Jesus is offering – the love of God made real in the person of Jesus – is so foreign that language can’t communicate it. It’s going to take something else. Something bigger than words.

Thanksgiving is kind of like that as well. All sorts of hard work goes into planning a meal, inviting friends and family, getting the house ready. I’m going to a friend’s home this afternoon to share in her Thanksgiving supper, and I’m hoping that my side dish of acorn squash with brown sugar, honey and ginger will be a hit. I’m feeling a little blue, knowing that my folks and my sister will be getting together without me in Des Moines. There can be a lot of pressure to have everything just right, pressure that can ruin the fundamental gift Thanksgiving has to offer us: a chance to celebrate the gifts of life, to appreciate the families of origin and families of choice that make our lives rich and good.

The gospel of John uses the image of Jesus as the bread of life to describe the ways that God is reaching out to meet our most basic needs, to demonstrate that God is providing for each and every one of us. It is a huge gift, not a reward, an idea that we mostly find “inconceivable.” Which is why we gather around tables here at church, and at home, to hear the story of God’s grace, to offer thanks, to share a meal. The prospect of this wondrous love is too big for words. It requires something bigger. It requires a Thanksgiving supper.

Happy Thanksgiving – and, Amen.

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