It was after The Battle of Gettysburg, with over 50,000 casualties of both Union and Confederate soldiers that President Abraham Lincoln announced the national holiday of Thanksgiving. It was a political stunt to try and create a much needed unity in our country because it was so divided. The Thanksgiving story about the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims sitting down in 1621 to a Thanksgiving Meal together was mostly myth. Lincoln used the story to show Americans who had just heard their young sons had died on both sides of the aisle to begin to seek reconciliation. Historians view the idea as sort of ingenious because in the long run, it did take root as a national holiday where families sat down together despite their differences.
Today, our nation finds itself a fractured nation once again, divided on both sides of the aisle politically. The divide seems to ever create more disunity on every important issue that you and I can possibly think of guns, abortion, immigration, human sexuality, marriage, taxes, health care, and there are so many more. Families sometimes even stop meeting for Thanksgiving because of these polarizing issues, and their Facebook and Twitter feeds that draw such controversy even within the circle of people they are related too.
What kind of a table can we gather at where people can foster unity once again? How can our land be healed from the spirit of rage and violence that we see everywhere in schools, in churches, in government buildings, at the hand of terrorists, the hand of extremists, and the hands of the mentally ill? Is there a better table that will help us than that of the Thanksgiving table?
Two thousand years ago, Christ took 12 men into an upper room, and in his own words desired to eat and drink with them one last time before he faced the cross. It is this meal we commemorate often in the church because it embodies his purpose and life on this earth. He too, lived in a turbulent time. Romans and Jewish people were not friends, but enemies. Jerusalem and Judea were a Roman occupied state. The Jewish people were divided in many ways — Sadducees and Pharisees, Herodians and Zealots, and Jesus though not violent or argumentative was still considered a divisive figure because of his criticism of the religious elite.
This Last Supper, as we call it, celebrated that which Christ stated he would do, and that which he fulfilled following that supper. His body was broken for you and for me, and his blood was poured out as a new covenant that would be forever the covenant that washed humanity’s sins away. It was a meal that divided the betrayer, and also those who would desert and deny him. It was meal in which he took up the basin and the towel and washed his disciples’ feet. He taught them what it meant to love people even when they betrayed you, even when they deserted you, and even when they denied they even knew you. He served his own in washing their feet, but his greater washing was that of their souls when he washed their sins away by his own blood.
This table that the Lords invites you and I to today is frequently commemorated in the church, and though we are sometimes divided in our opinions on how to solve political issues, we still can come together at this table because of what Jesus has done for us. Unity happens only at the table of the Lord. Can any political leader bring the lasting unity that Christ can bring? Serving one another and loving one another is the action around the table. Sacrificing oneself for others is the language of the table. The attitude of the table is humility. If unity cannot be attained at the table of the Lord, then there is nowhere else for us to find it. It is with this thought that I wish for you a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend, and that you will find yourself at the table of the Lord this Sunday.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
Brian Taylor is the full-time pastor of Forest Avenue Baptist Church. He began his ministry in the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa, serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the panhandle of Texas.