Turkey and mashed potatoes resonate strongly with our culture. Cranberry sauce, stuffing and buttery rolls seem to seduce us into large gatherings of people. Even thoughts of pumpkin pie with a creamy dollop of whipped cream expose an expectation to share food with the ones that we love.
For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving was a season of family. We traveled home to spend a day with the parents who raised us, with the brothers and sisters who tormented us, with the Aunts and Uncles and cousins we probably would not see again until next year. It was one of those holidays that became a major discussion after we were married: with whom would we spend Thanksgiving, your family or mine? It was a week carved out of the normal flow of life to stop and give thanks for the family who loves you.
However, it seems as if the tides are changing. Thanksgiving is not confined to the sister and brother that you shared a childhood home with. Whether it is before the plane ride or instead of the plane ride to mom’s house, non-blood related people want to gather together for a special meal. But why? It could be that they don’t have enough money for that plane ride. It could be that they didn’t want to see mom at all. It could be that there is no mom to visit anymore. It could be a very sad commentary on our generation’s attitude toward family—broken, unimportant, and beyond hope. Or it could be just the opposite.
Right now, in the middle of divorces and custody battles, in the middle of family disappointments and abandonment, in the middle of underemployment and identity crisis, in the middle of a general confusion about what is true and good and beautiful, friends sit down and share a meal.
Of course, it is just a meal of turkey and mashed potatoes, but there we are comforted by these faces. It is just a taste of cranberry sauce, but there our fake-life phones are silenced while looking into the living eyes of a friend. It is just a piece of pumpkin pie, but there we pass the bountiful harvest around the table. Without even knowing it, this meal searches out a family that is thicker than blood.
While (Jesus) was still speaking to the people, his mother and his brothers stood outside asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)
According to our Lord, blood relation only goes so far. Jesus redefines family as something even more than your brother, sister, or mother. Jesus points to the disciples who listen to his words. Jesus honors the friends that walk to the cross beside him. Jesus sits and eats with the sinners he calls family.
The family created by Christ shadows the fellowship that we continually seek to find in one another. Yet, our short shared meal with friendly faces is not a good enough answer. These friends around our own tables will fail. Divisions and jealousy will rip people out of our lives. This cultural tradition will fade into the Facebook archives. But the yearning for a meaningful family is spot on. The ones who seek after this table fellowship on Thanksgiving are wandering in the background of the Areopagus.
“What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it… gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:23-27)
A feast of everlasting friendship is set right in front of us. Our new family has been created by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He serves his punished and beaten body in a mouthful of bread. He pours out his sweet spilled blood in a taste of wine. He binds us together when His promise of forgiveness and life is passed along from sinner to sinner. We are comforted by the faces around this table, our family, for the rest of eternity.
Thanksgiving, whether with friends or relatives, whispers a flicker of hope to a generation that has lost trust in the family. But this I proclaim to you: The feast of Christ is the true promise of life to every generation. Eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.
Welcome to the family.