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A Service for the Eve of Thanksgiving

by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 

I have always thought of our Day of National Thanksgiving as being a distinctly national occasion, as opposed to a liturgical one.  Accordingly, I have tried to shape or find services that reflect that quality.  There is indeed much about our nation and the free lives which we live there that are worthy of thanks on this occasion.  It is also a fine time to do joint services with other nearby churches.

 

Below you will find a service that I have put together that includes some historical-national texts that help to shape the service.  It is not a eucharist, although it could easily be adapted to be one, if that was desired.  Please note the acknowledgments at the end and include them in your bulletin.

 

It is perhaps a nice time to carry the national flag in procession, if you have an opening procession -- maybe even using Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts in uniform or veterans, perhaps even with the Christian flag if you have one.

 

L = Leader    C = Congregation

 

Prelude

 

Proclamation of the Day:

 

L. In the first year of the presidency of George Washington in 1789, a Day of National Thanksgiving was set side for the last Thursday of November. Since that time, Americans have celebrated this day in remembrance of all the blessings which God has poured down upon this nation and her citizens.

 

In the presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving Day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had this to say:

 

"It is the duty of nations as well as of citizens to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord....

 

"We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

 

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

 

 

Hymn  "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"

 

Call to Worship for Thanksgiving:

 

L. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

C. God's steadfast love endures forever.

 

L. Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his name.

C. Make known God's deeds among the peoples!

 

L. God blesses us with gifts of love:

C. With food and clothing, home and family.

 

L. God blesses us with daily work:

C. And all we need from day to day.

 

L. God protects us in time of danger:

C. And guards us from every evil.

 

L. God calls us into relationship with him:

C. And forms us into one holy people, the Church of Jesus Christ in this place.

 

L. Therefore shall we offer thanks and praise to the Lord our God.

C. O Lord our God, we will give thanks to you forever.

 

 

Salutation & Prayer of the Day:

 

L. The Lord be with you.

C. And also with you.

.

L. Let us pray. Almighty God our Father, your generous goodness comes to us new every day. By the work of your Spirit lead us to acknowledge your goodness, give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

C. Amen

 

 

Reading from History: The Mayflower Compact, 1620

 

In the name of God, Amen.

 

We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, king, defender of the faith etc.:

 

Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia;

 

Do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid;

 

And by virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

 

In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the eleventh of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James of England, France and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini 1620.

 

 

Response:

 

L. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord

C. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

 

L. For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

C. From this day all generations will call me blessed.

 

L. The Almighty has done great things for me.

C. And holy is his name.    (Luke 1:46-49)

 

 

Reading from History:

Letter to Sir Edwin Sandys, a founder of the Virginia Colony,

from the Pilgrims planning their trip to Plymouth, 15 December 1617

 

... As for the present you rightly behold [God] in our endeavors, so shall we not be wanting in our parts (the same God assisting us) to return all answerable fruit and respect unto the labor of your love bestowed upon us....

 

1. We verily believe and trust the Lord is with us, unto whom and whose service we have given ourselves in many trials; and that He will graciously prosper our endeavors according to the simplicity of our hearts therein.

2. We are well weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country, and inured to the difficulties of a strange and hard land, which yet in a great part we have by patience overcome.

3. The people are, for the body of them, industrious and frugal, we think we may safely say, as any company of people in the world.

4. We are knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord, of the violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue whereof we do hold ourselves straitly tied to all care of each other's good and of the whole, by every one and so mutually.

5. Lastly, it is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again....

 

These motives we have been bold to tender unto you, which you in your wisdom may also impart to any other[s].... We take our leaves, committing your persons and counsels to the guidance and direction of the Almighty.

 

Yours much bounden in all duty,

John Robinson, [Pastor, and] William Brewster, [Elder]

 

 

Hymn   "Now Thank We All Our God"

 

 

Reading from Scripture: Deuteronomy 8:7-18

 

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

 

Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God, by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances and his statutes, which I command you this day: lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day.

 

 

Sermon, Special Music, Offering (given to a local joint ministry or food pantry, if the service is a joint service).

 

Offertory Prayer:

 

L. Let us pray.

C. O God, who desires good for all creatures, satisfy our hunger not just for food, but for freedom, truth, justice and love.

O Risen Christ, you revealed yourself to us as one who gives to the poor and cares for all people. We dedicate our lives and our offerings to your service.

O Holy Spirit, bless these gifts and abide in our hearts so that our gifts and our actions may live out our faith, glorify God, and bring forth a fruitful harvest for the kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

 

 

Hymn   "We Gather Together"

 

 

Litany for Thanksgiving:

 

L. As the pioneers of the Plymouth colony gathered around the feasting table with native Americans in 1621 to give thanks for all that they had been given by our Bountiful Provider, so we too gather on this Eve of Thanksgiving to offer thanks for all those gifts which the Lord has seen fit to give us, especially for our country, our state and our town.

     Almighty and Generous God, we bring before you, in our hearts and on our Thanksgiving table, the gifts and blessings which you have given us this year. And, in humble gratitude, we give you thanks for them. We thank you as well for the blessings which come to us through the peace and prosperity of our nation, our state and our town.

C. We praise you, and we thank you, O God.

 

L. We acknowledge that as we have greatly received, so are we responsible. Therefore, O Lord, keep us from being unfaithful in our lives as citizens of this nation and as recipients of all that past generations of Americans have bequeathed to us. Help us to be worthy of our ancestors and of their God.

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. To all the high desires of the pioneers and prophets,

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. To their belief in the possibilities of a common people:

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. To their passion for freedom and their readiness to die in its defense:

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. To their scorn of tyranny, and their trust in men and women to rule themselves:

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. To their vision of a human commonwealth in which the people of many lands may share:

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. To their release from the prejudice of an old world and their will to build a new one:

C. Help us, O God, to be faithful.

 

L. As our ancestors trusted in you, O Lord, and you delivered them:

C. Keep us ever close to you.

 

L. Lord of the nations, guide our people by your Spirit to go forward in justice and freedom. Give us what outward prosperity may be your will, but above all things give us faith in you, that our nation may bring glory to your name and blessings to all peoples; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

C. Amen

 

L. Lord, remember us in your kingdom and teach us to pray:

C. Our Father . . .

 

 

Blessings for Thanksgiving:

L. May the Lord of all creation shower his blessings and favor upon you.

C. Amen

 

L. May the Lord of the harvest grace your Thanksgiving table with his presence and fill your loved ones with peace.

C. Amen

 

L. May the Lord of salvation guide you all your days until you come into the joys of his eternal kingdom.

C. Amen

 

L. And may almighty God, Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit, bless you now and forever.

C. Amen

 

 

Hymn   "My Country, Tis of Thee"

 

Postlude

__________

Acknowledgments:   The liturgy for today was written by the Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel, a pastor of the ELCA.  The Litany for Thanksgiving was reprinted from The Experimental Liturgy Book, R.F. Hoey ed., Seabury Press 1969, p.170 amended by TLW. The closing prayer of the Litany is reprinted from the Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Pub. 1978, p.40.