The First Thanksgiving

Posted on November 26, 2015 by


A priest friend of mine makes a point of preaching special holiday sermons—sermons that are myth-busters, in which he takes a popular idea or belief about that holiday and shows how those ideas or beliefs are false.  His reasoning is that holidays are the only times some people go to church, and so he may not get the opportunity to preach again to those people for several months—so he has to hit them while he can!

This is the season where, in America, everywhere you look you’ll see pilgrims and Indians and turkeys.  You’ll see specials on television about what is referred to as “the first Thanksgiving.”

The pilgrims must have had the best PR available, because they didn’t really have the first Thanksgiving!

Actually, I’m thankful that they didn’t.  The so-called pilgrims, were the enemy.  They hated us.  They hated our church, our Prayerbook, and our bishops.  They wanted to put as much distance between us and them as possible.  The puritan separatists were coming to North America not for freedom of religion, as their PR says, but for two reasons.  First, they wanted to get away from everything that makes Anglican Christianity what it is, such as tradition, liturgy, sacraments, even Christmas!  Second, they wanted the power to force everyone else to also.  No, I have no sympathy, no affection, no respect for those pseudo-Christians at all!

So, as I said, on this Thanksgiving Day, first of all I am thankful that those puritans did not have the first Thanksgiving that autumn of 1621!

If anything, the first Thanksgiving in the thirteen colonies was fourteen years earlier.  When the colonists (ten times as many as on the Mayflower) landed in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the first official act of the colony was to rig a sail as a makeshift roof, and the Eucharist, that is, a service of Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer, was celebrated by the Rev. Robert Hunt.

In fact, the first Thanksgiving in North America was even earlier than that.  Sir Francis Drake, the explorer and privateer, sailed up the coast of California.  He put in at various locations, and in what is now called San Barnabasco Bay, his chaplain, the Rev. Francis Fletcher, celebrated Holy Communion from the prayer book.  This was in 1579, 28 years before Jamestown, and a full 42 years before the dissenters at Plimouth plantation!

What difference does that make, you may ask.  What does saying Holy Communion have to do with Thanksgiving Day?  The key is in the language.  The service of Holy Communion, which is commonly called “the Mass,” for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it is one syllable long compared to eight, really has a more traditional and proper name than “Mass,” and that is the “Eucharist.”

“Eucharist” is a Greek word—a biblical word—that means “thanksgiving.” In the canon, the prayer of consecration, during the prayer for the benefits of the offering, the celebrant explicitly prays that the Father “accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” Just before we repeat the words of our Lord at the consecration we recall that he took the bread, and gave thanks, and that he took the cup, and gave thanksGiving thanks was the common Hebrew way of performing a blessing—you blessed something by giving thanks for it.

Giving thanks keeps repeating.  In fact, the word “thanks” appears seven times in the Anglican Mass.  This is the heart of the service—er, the Eucharist. And this is what makes the Mass relevant to today.  More relevant than puritans and Indians stuffing themselves, is the giving of thanks the way the Lord commanded us to give thanks—in the Mass.

Whether it is remembering the first Thanksgiving in the thirteen colonies in 1607 or the first Thanksgiving in North America in 1579, it is the same celebration of thanksgiving our Lord commanded us when he said “do this in remembrance of me.”

Our Thanksgiving is the same celebration the rest of the Anglican world calls the “harvest home,” and in our modern prepackaged supermarket world, a celebration we need to remember, that all our lives are dependent on the fruits of the earth, the gifts of God.  The most appropriate thing we can do is give thanks, and the most appropriate way to give thanks is in the thanksgiving—the Eucharist.

So let us give thanks, offer to God the gifts he himself has given us, and by giving thanks bless these gifts and bless one another by giving thanks for the gifts of our loved ones that God has given us—and most especially for the gift of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

Posted in: Culture