Thanksgiving Meditation in the Venite of our Matins Liturgy
— Psalm 95:1-7 (TLH, pp. 33-34)
Sad to say, the very existence of “Thanksgiving Day” as a federally-mandated, legal holiday, established by presidential proclamation and perpetuated by Congress, is a sure sign NOT of our nation’s gratitude, but, on the contrary, its gross INgratitude to God for all His blessings! That statement makes absolutely no sense at first hearing until we consider WHY a special day of thanksgiving had to be mandated at all! People who are truly grateful shouldn’t need to have one day out of 365 set aside by law as an opportunity for “thanksgiving.” Moreover, what really clinches it is the fact that, in spite of this legal holiday —created so that people can get off work and go to church with their families to give thanks unto God— most Americans (even those who regard themselves as “church-going” people) do NOT attend church on Thanksgiving Day! They’re too busy traveling, visiting, eating, drinking, resting, playing, and watching football games on T.V. —so busy enjoying all their blessings, their temporal blessings, of course, that they have no time to give thanks for them! Hey, this is “Turkey Day” for most people; and the vast majority don’t even take time to offer a prayer of thanksgiving at their “Thanksgiving” table!! “Where [indeed] are the nine?” we hear Jesus ask in the Gospel Lesson appointed to be read on Thanksgiving Day. And we wonder if even one-out-of-ten —whether even one-out-of-a-hundred— of our countrymen was in church to hear it on the fourth Thursday in November!
By God’s grace, we Christians have much for which we should be thankful; and we have special reason to give thanks unto the Lord not only on Thanksgiving Day but every day of our lives. According to the title-text of this article, the text of the Venite in our Matins liturgy (TLH, pp. 33-34), it is not only because He is the only true God (v. 3), to whom alone our thanks is due; it is not merely because He is our “Maker” (vv. 5 and 6) and our Provider (v. 4) here in this world; but it is chiefly because He is “our God” (v. 7) and “the Rock of our Salvation,” (v. 1), and that by His grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, we are His people (pastured in His precious Word) and “the sheep of His hand” (v. 7) — heirs of everlasting life in heaven (Cf. John 10:27-28)!
The Psalmist, as the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, exhorts us to do what is “natural” for our New Man of faith, but a “pain in the neck” to our Old Adam of sin, in which “dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). He says: “Oh come! …Let us come before His presence!” While we Christians should indeed pray “everywhere” (as St. Paul writes in the Thanksgiving Epistle Lesson, I Timothy 2:1-8), it is particularly fitting that we should render thanksgiving in God’s House, in “the place where [His] honor dwelleth” (Psalm 26:8). And the Psalmist even tells us how we should render our thanksgiving when he says: “Let us sing unto the Lord; let us make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms,” that is, with hymns of praise; “let us worship and bow down,” humbly acknowledging our unworthiness of all His benefits toward us; “let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” as does a lowly subject begging the mercy of His noble king. —The physical postures themselves are, of course, a matter of Christian liberty; but the attitude of our heart— one of humility, penitence, gratitude and praise— is fully expected of those who have been the recipients of God’s gracious blessings. And, although “He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” as the Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter five (v. 45), we Christians have SPECIAL REASON to give thanks unto the Lord.
“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” “The Lord,” Jehovah, whose name means “I am,” is “the true God,” writes Jeremiah, “He is the living God and an everlasting King” (10:10). He is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three distinct persons in one divine being or essence, as He clearly reveals Himself to us in the Bible. And He is “above all gods,” the Psalmist tells us. “Our God is in the heavens; He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands,” we read in Psalm 115; and God says of Himself through the Prophet Isaiah: “I am the Lord; that is My Name. And My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images” (42:8).
He and He alone is the God to whom our praises are due; He and He alone is the God to whom all glory is due; He and He alone hears and is able to answer our prayers. He and He alone is the God whom we are to “fear, love, and trust above all things” (Luther, First Commandment). He and He alone is the God whom we Christians have special reason to thank for having “shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6) as He brought us “unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).
Moreover, we owe God our special thanks because He is “the Lord, our Maker,” the Psalmist tells us in our title-text. He created us and the world in which we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and He still preserves us and all His creatures with His all-wise, all-powerful, and benevolent providence. “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works,” David writes in Psalm 145. “In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the strength of the hills is His also. The sea is His, and He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.”
We shouldn’t be surprised at the ingratitude of the world (and even of our own countrymen) for the Lord’s manifold blessings. After all, just witness how many in their foolish ignorance —yea, in their willful ignorance (II Peter 3:5)— deny God’s creation of all things in favor of those preposterous theories of “evolution” palmed off as “fact” by fraudulent scientists “wise in [their] own conceits” (Romans 11:25). It’s not that people generally don’t know that God is “our Maker,” for “God hath showed it unto them,” Paul writes to the Romans, chapter one; “for [even] the invisible things of Him are clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse; because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful” (vv. 20-21a).
But thanks be to God that by His grace “through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God” (Hebrews 11:3), and that we can confidently declare with Luther in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them… that He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.”
When we pause but for a brief moment to take even the sketchiest inventory of our temporal blessings, how we Christians must marvel at the Lord’s bountiful goodness evident in everything we have and enjoy day by day! The children of this world, of course, credit themselves for such bounty, arrogantly claiming: “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth!” (Deuteronomy 8:17). And our own flesh boasts the same! Yet the New Man within us gladly concedes that all these benefits are God’s gifts “purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us]; for all which it is [our] duty to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him” (Luther, First Article). O, therefore, “let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
And yet, all these temporal blessings and benefits are not the chief reason why we should give thanks unto the Lord. The CHIEF reason is that “He is OUR God; and we are the people of HIS pasture, and the sheep of HIS hand.” Merely to recognize God as God; to acknowledge His creation of all things; and to rely upon and even to appreciate His merciful providence, does not make us “the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” Rather, this imagery in our text —the same imagery as in the 23rd Psalm and in Jesus’ picture of Himself as the “Good Shepherd”— speaks of our spiritual blessings because of which we are members of God’s own family and heirs of everlasting life. And how easy it is for us to lose sight of those unspeakably great blessings on a day when the temporal things are spread out before us on our Thanksgiving tables in such abundance!
When you are asked on Thanksgiving Day (IF indeed you are asked at all) to name some of the things for which you are thankful, don’t start out with the usual list of temporal things which even those may recognize who don’t “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 8:9) — friends, good health, a decent job, a nice home, medical insurance, and financial security with gold in your safe! How about the things that REALLY count —not just here in time but hereafter in eternity?? …Shouldn’t you as a Christian boldly declare concerning your best blessings: • “I’m specially thankful that God had mercy on the likes of me, a poor, helpless, miserable, worthless sinner; that out of love for my soul He sent Jesus to be my Savior; that Christ took my place under God’s Law, obeyed it perfectly in my stead, and suffered the punishment of my guilt —the pains of hell itself— as my Substitute! • I’m so thankful to God that, because of what Jesus accomplished for me in satisfying His justice, God forgave me all my sins and declared me and all mankind righteous in His sight. • I’m so grateful that God’s Holy Spirit informed me about this wonderful news in the Gospel, worked in me the faith to believe it and rely upon it, and thus made me by faith God’s own dear adopted child and heir of heaven. • I dearly appreciate the fact that, by His grace, I am ‘pastured’ as one of His dear ‘sheep’ in God’s precious Word day-by-day, so that my faith remains steadfast and unmoveable, and that, nourished and kept in the true faith by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, I cannot be ‘plucked’ out of my Savior’s flock by Satan or anyone else, but will remain ‘a sheep of His hand’ even unto the end. • And that’s why I’m thankful to have a church of the pure Word, a faithful Pastor to ‘watch for [my] soul’ (Hebrews 13:17), and dear brethren to exhort and admonish me from the Holy Scriptures and to provoke me to love and to good works (Hebrews 10:24-25)! • Why, I could spend literally hours recounting the spiritual blessings beyond price which the Lord has so richly showered down upon me and my family!” —Indeed, “what shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord! I will pay my vows unto the Lord, now in the presence of all His people! …I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the Name of the Lord!” (Psalm 116:12-14; 17).
THAT is the SPECIAL REASON we as Christians have to give thanks unto the Lord —not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day of our lives!! It is thanksgiving for the spiritual blessings above all things that should set us apart from those who each year celebrate “Turkey Day,” whose minds and hearts are fixed on the fleeting treasures and pleasures of this present world, who labor day in and day out for “the meat which perisheth” (John 6:27). —“O,” therefore, “give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, because His mercy endureth forever!” (Psalm 118:). “Let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation! Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms. …For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand!”
All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
to Father, Son, and Spirit,
the God that saved us by His grace—
all glory to His merit!
O Triune God in heaven above,
who hast revealed Thy saving love,
to Thee our thanks we render!
(TLH 377, 10, adapted)
— D. T. M.