This month we will gather in sundry places to celebrate the great pilgrim feast of Thanksgiving. Today, Thanksgiving tends to be more about football than pilgrims, more about pre-Christmas sales and less about sharing a new land. It was almost three centuries ago that a small band of religious rebels left England’s shores seeking a new home and freedom for a new brand of Christian faith.
It was an arduous two-month voyage in a 90-foot ship battered by storms. But on November 9, 1620 the scrubby heights of Cape Cod came into view. On November 11, the Mayflower Compact was signed which formed the “Civil Body Politic” with just and equal laws for the good of the community. This agreement of consent between the people became the first foundation stone in the genesis of democracy in America.
Perhaps the pilgrims survived because of their doggedness and unflinching devotion to God. They certainly believed that they had been chosen for their journey into the New World. Now almost 300 years later, it is hard to imagine their struggle on these shores. Of course, they were not alone; there were tribes of people already here who did not appreciate their arrival.
Thanksgiving, celebrates, at the very least, a moment in time in which the Native Americans reached out to embrace and help these strange new people with customs they did not understand. This act of generosity is what we remember on Thanksgiving Day.
We know that the pilgrims were religious, but they were far from perfect, and often it was their religion that drove them to intolerance. All Americans are the recipients and the descendants of these sometimes faithful and sometimes hateful settlers. We should be humbled by their faith, but also, wary of those who sit in judgment of others whose beliefs differ from ours. Christianity ought never to be used to oppress others.
Immigration remains a huge issue for Americans on this Thanksgiving, 2017. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants, and when we look to Jesus for an opinion, we will no doubt here these words; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.” The Puritans got the first part right and the second part wrong. Maybe we can do better.