On this Thanksgiving Day many families gather with loved ones, blood-related or not, around an embarrassingly bountiful table. And before digging into those first bites of the feast, thanks will be given. Thanks will be given to God for everything He has given us, for the bounty of our harvest. And even though our modern-day harvest may be very different from that of the legendary pilgrims quintessentially associated with this holiday, we will thank God for all He gives us: health, jobs, comfort, wealth, freedom, loved ones, time, life. On this day, even many unbelievers will feel the need to “say grace” and thank God for everything they’ve been given.
Now, I love a driving contemporary beat as much as anyone, but sometimes it takes a good old hymn to chisel through to the core. This past Sunday we sang Come, Ye Thankful People, Come, a hymn written By Henry Alford in the 1800s.
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come—
Raise the song of harvest home:
All is safely gathered in
Ere the winter storms begin.
God, our Maker, doth provide
For our wants to be supplied:
Come to God’s own temple, come—
Raise the song of harvest home.
Henry encourages us to gather and thank the Lord for all He has given, to celebrate God’s provision, appropriately on a holiday that falls at the end of the harvest, typically right after the first frost, when all has been safely gathered in. It marks the time when toils are done and the bounty of the harvest is what will carry these people through the winter until the field can be worked again. A harvest feast…our harvest. Right?
All the world is God’s own field,
Fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown,
Unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear,
Then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
Wholesome grain and pure may be.
For the Lord our God shall come
And shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day
All offenses purge away;
Give His angels charge at last
In the fire the tares to cast,
But the fruitful ears to store
In His garner evermore.
These verses are based on the parable found in Matthew’s gospel:
24 Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. 27 The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves *said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he *said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
And so it is that as we sit and thank God for the bounty of our harvest we forget that we ourselves are part of the Lord’s harvest. Have you considered that the thanks from the unbeliever and that from the redeemed are vastly different? Just as we “do not mourn as those who have no hope” (1Thes. 4:13), we do not thank as those who have no hope. While some can only thank the Lord for the common grace of the temporal gifts we receive on earth, we can thank the Lord of the harvest for His saving grace that has seen fit for us to be counted among the wheat and not the tares. For some, the thanksgiving will end with their lives here on earth; for the believer the thanksgiving will be an activity continuing beyond death into eternity for the ultimate gift of everlasting life. You see, our thanksgiving feast has its roots on an earlier feast of thanksgiving:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
The Lord Jesus, knowing that He was hours away from being betrayed, hours away from excruciating pain, torture, humiliation and death, saw fit to give thanks for the salvation that He was about to accomplish for each one of us. He left us with the promise that He would come back to gather His harvest.
Even so, Lord, quickly come
To Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin;
There, forever purified,
In Thy presence to abide:
Come, with all Thine angels, come—
Raise the glorious harvest home.