Giving Thanks When It Is Hard
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)
Many may find thanks-giving to be a real challenge in this pandemic year. Virtually no one has come through this year untouched by grief, loss, anxiety, illness, or financial challenge. We have been separated physically, and this has had significant emotional and spiritual implications for people around the globe. In many ways, this is a brand new experience for the majority of us, but it is helpful to remind us of what God’s people have faced century after century throughout time.
The large majority of United States citizens have never been an oppressed people, though in this past year, we have seen the fruit of racial oppression in shocking ways. Planet-wide and historically, cultural oppression has been the norm rather than the exception. Even today, many people live hand to mouth, never sure where the next meal may come from, never have access to basic shelter, clothing, or healthcare. The shadows of fear, threat of violence, infant and childhood mortality, famine and disease, cover a significant population in our world.
This was normal for primitive, pre-modern people from the Hebrew culture. Imagine no clean water, no sanitation, no electricity, no technology, no travel, no entertainment that we all take for granted each and every day. A virus like the one we are dealing with today could easily wipe out a village, a tribe, a community, a culture, a society. Food was scarce most of the time – the practical reason (in addition to the spiritual) for fasting twice a week was to make sure food would stretch throughout the full year. No dentistry, no eye care, no antibiotics, no complex surgeries, no vitamins. People were considered old at 40, if they lived that long. Infant mortality was in excess of 70% in many regions. No air conditioning, refrigeration, no books, no movies, not TV, no computers – so many things we use to make our life easier.
Truly, my siblings in Christ, this is a time for us to rise above our losses, to heal from our grief, to move beyond our grievances and frustrations so that can focus on all that we have to be thankful for. We have many things that help us enjoy a quality of life, even in the midst of the pandemic.
One thing we share with our pre-modern Hebrew ancestors though is that we have been gifted with loving relationships and community. People are the greatest gift God gives us, second only to the gift of God’s Son, Jesus the Christ. We have grown even more grateful for our relationships as we have been denied close contact. Let us rejoice in the gift of partners and children, grandchildren and siblings, friends and neighbors, community and culture. We may not be able to gather with loved ones for traditional Thanksgiving gatherings and meals, but we still have loved ones. Hold in prayer all those who have lost family and friends through this COVID-19 pandemic and celebrate with joy those whom you cannot see in person this year.
Imagine what it will be like when we can reunite safely and comfortably, engaging in hugs and kisses and table fellowship and enjoyment of one another’s company! We will offer a different kind of Thanksgiving then, but this year, let us rejoice, let us give thanks to God, and let us reach out in whatever way we can to tell people what gifts they are to us in this challenging year. Make a joyful noise, give thanks and praise. Have a blessed Thanksgiving. Bless you all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).