The annual cycle of the Catholic Church’s Sacred Liturgy goes way back. Back before even the Mayflower, or Plymouth-Rock pilgrims, or the untimely death of the first American turkey at the hands of a white man.
According to the ancient Liturgy of our Church, this is the week of the year to contemplate the end of times, the final tribulations, and the great apocalypse that will purify the earth.
According to our long-standing American custom, on the other hand, this is the week of the year to gather at the family hearth and give thanks to God for the copious fruits of the earth, and for all His many benefits to us.
So, on the one hand, in church: the book of Revelation, the wrath of God, the angels scourging the evil Babylons of the earth, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the arduous trial of faith by which the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our souls will truly shine forth and confound the devil’s minions.
On the other hand, at home: apple cider, pumpkin pie, and plenty of late-afternoon football, with each quarter punctuated by a nap.
Seems like two altogether different emphases. But, in fact, one common theme unites both observances. The gathering of the harvest.
We sit at table and eat and drink with each other to rejoice in the great gathering-in of the what the earth–with the labor of human hands, and fertilizer, and rain–has produced.
We will eat our turkeys. And a quiet and a joy will descend upon us with the early sunset and the fire burning. Because this harvesting and gathering that we human beings do touches the final harvesting and gathering that God will do.
Indeed, there is some glory in the Thanksgiving table even for the turkey. (Especially if it’s maybe baked in buttercloth, or basted with beer.) The turkey reaches a kind of goal, so to speak. Its little turkey life takes on meaning, as it sits beautifully on the table while the family members argue about Obama.
We, too, will find a place, in the end. The heavenly Father will gather us into His barns, as Jesus put it. The striving and straining and fussing of the pilgrim life will end. And, please God, the great peace of the divine kingdom will enfold us like a blanket.