What is the deal with this year and death, amirite? I mean I don’t mean to make light of death, but there has been a lot of it going around this year. So much that I’m worried we won’t have enough candles for this upcoming All Saints Day. I’ll be sure to order more.
But this year has been tough. There has been so much death in this community, around this community, and all around the world. There has been death that directly affected us, indirectly affected us, death that we are still trying to make sense of and deal with. I mean I just did a funeral this past Friday and a couple more on deck for the next few weeks, making this month alone busier funeral-wise than I have been in whole calendar years in the past. And we are shocked by this because all this death isn’t something that we’ve been expecting, it isn’t something that is exactly welcome, and of course it’s not something that we’d ever want.
So yeah, it’s been tough. It’s been rough. It just hasn’t been a good year.
So much so that I really had a hard time thinking about what I could say for this sermon this Thanksgiving weekend, which seems to be like a growing trend for me lately. I mean in light of all these deaths, how can we feel thankful? How can we be in the mood to celebrate a day that has “giving thanks” literally in its name? How can we betray the mourning and sorrow around death and be happy and appreciative of everything else?
And I’ll tell ya, it’s not easy. It doesn’t look like it ever will be easy. And realistically, I don’t think it ever has been easy, because we aren’t the only ones who have faced difficult months or years or even whole lifetimes throughout history. I mean, death and all aside, we have it pretty cushy here in the Lower Mainland of Canada in that we have freedom, we have access to pretty much everything we need for life, and we have one of the, in my opinion, best climates in the world. Real estate is a little high, but hey you can’t win them all.
But when we face hardship like this, with all this death that has affected our congregation, it’s hard to remember anything that we could ever be thankful for. Sure, we might be able to put on happy faces and laugh here and there, but deep down we might still be thinking that life just… sucks.
And again, we won’t be the only ones who think this. In fact, I would bet real money that every people group of every time has felt this in some shape or form. This emptiness, this hopelessness, this inability to feel thankful for anything because life just seems too full of hardship. I know we are feeling something like that, I know the people of war torn countries probably feel that, and it seems pretty clear to me that the ancient Israelites felt it too.
I mean, talk about a people group who has had a tough run. These ancient Israelites who evolved into our modern day Jewish nation, have face oppression after oppression, exile after exile, discrimination after discrimination. It’s like they could never catch a break, from the slavery in Egypt to the losing their homeland and temple being destroyed, to their living in Roman occupation, it just isn’t easy being Israeli…te.
In the light of these hardships that the ancient Israelites faced, we have scripture reminding them that while life is tough, that God is still with them through it all. While they seem to have more trouble than non-trouble, if they took a step back they might see how their blessings outweigh any of the difficulties they have to deal with. This isn’t to belittle their trouble, but rather to put things in perspective. Hardship is easier to deal with when you know that it won’t last forever, that you aren’t alone in it, and that through it all, you are still dearly loved and cherished.
So the Israelites were reminded of how they were freed from slavery against all odds, reminded of how God has been with them and has been reliable in providing comfort and peace, reminded that even at the midst of poverty and scarcity, they are fed with the eternal bread of heaven.
And maybe that is what we have to be thankful for when we aren’t really in a thankful mood. Maybe it isn’t necessarily a specific thing or event that we need to be thankful for, of the lack of bad things happening, but the acknowledgement of us having things to be thankful for and that we can even have the capacity for thankfulness.
That was the point of us creating this collage of some of the things this congregation is thankful for. And while the things that we are thankful for vary quite a bit, from our spouses to our late parents to things like Scooby Doo and Bear Paws, it was good to just see the extensive list and being reminded of how much we have to be joyful about collectively as a community. And even if we weren’t able to make a contribution to the collage, we are able to find joy in the joy of others. There is indeed a lot to be thankful for, to recognise God at work, to just appreciate and find that joy in.
All this reminds me of a story that I saw on Instagram a few days ago. The story is about this math teacher who started to write a multiplication table on the board, and it looked like this:
The class erupted in laughter. And you can probably guess why. And the teacher says to the class that he put that incorrect answer there on purpose, not as a joke but to teach the class an important life lesson. That while he had one incorrect answer, there were 9 that were correct, but no one cared. All they could see, all they got caught up on, all they could focussed on was the incorrect one. The lesson then was that while we in the world might do many things right, the people around us will only focus on the bad that we do.
But at the same time, the lesson I’m getting from that story is that we often are the ones that will focus on the one bad thing and then completely ignore the many good things of our lives. Those one bad things, like say a year full of unwanted death, might make it hard for us to remember all the things we have to be thankful for, or maybe even how to thankful at all.
Again, this isn’t to belittle the hardship that we face or the deaths that we’ve had in the past year, both are very serious and will take us time to recover from. But at the same time, I want to remind us that in the face of that hardship, there is still much to be thankful for even when we don’t see it or feel it. I know that it easier said than anything else, and sometimes we still feel like we don’t have anything to be thankful for, but we can be reminded that our joy is not dependent on how many good things or bad things happen to us, but the fact that we are all children of God, granted grace and mercy and redeemed by God’s own love, and put into this community in which we collectively have much to be thankful for.
In this Thanksgiving season, let us remember the joy given to us through Christ, that even in the toughest of time we will not be shaken but rejoice and be glad in all that God has done. Thanks be to God. Amen.