Thanksgiving Day Homily
Years ago, when recalling her friend Paul Robeson, poet Gwendolyn Brooks had this to say:
“Warning, in music-words devout and large //
that we are each other’s harvest //
we are each other’s business //
we are each other’s //
magnitude and bond.”
Brooks’ words roll off the tongue on days like today, when many anticipate the warmth of hearth and home, the expectation that particular Thanksgiving traditions will hold us fast in times of deep and widespread uncertainty. It is easy to say “we are each other’s harvest: we are each other’s business: we are each other’s magnitude and bond” when the “each other” are people we see, know, and love. Brooks carved out the space to praise Robeson for his expansive generosity, his ability to see the interconnectedness of life not only in the mid-twentieth century U.S., but in the struggles and experiences of people across the world.
His “each other” was inextricably linked to a web of beings and systems that he understood as being parts of a whole, the way a farmer recognizes that the right amount of rain at the right time on the right day all form a delicate ecosystem that will deeply impact her harvest.
It is not unlike the Collect of the Day we just chanted a few moments ago: “we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need”.
The request is two-fold: to become faithful stewards of what we’ve received for our needs and - from that bounty - to relieve all who are in need. In short, we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business, which stands in sharp contrast to the reality just beneath the narrative that is often repeated around Thanksgiving: That peace-loving pilgrims and peace-loving Native Americans shared a joyous meal after a rich common harvest. While the narrative might make us feel warm, it is often used as a way to gloss over the horror of genocide, displacement, and ongoing inequities that challenge indigenous communities to this day.
This history of brutality forces the baptized people of God to wonder at what cost the bounty comes, especially when one person’s bounty is another person’s displacement, when one person’s harvest is someone else’s theft of land.
"...we are each other’s harvest //
we are each other’s business //
we are each other’s magnitude and bond."
I remember one particular Thanksgiving Day from my childhood. My maternal grandmother invited a woman from my childhood church to dinner at her house that year. She didn’t like the living conditions the church member found herself in and my grandmother did what she could to help her situation. In a way, my grandmother made that church member’s business her business, not in a paternalistic or patronizing way, but in a way that expanded who did and did not belong at our family’s Thanksgiving Day feast. My grandmother, whose parents both died when she was fifteen years old, understood the power of sharing bounty, of expanding borders, of understanding people who weren’t her blood kin as her business, as her harvest.
This nosiness, this sense that we are each other’s business, undergirds Jesus’ interaction with the ten lepers. Instead, the nosiness and pushiness comes from the lepers, not Jesus. They make themselves Jesus’ business. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they cried with a loud voice. “We are your harvest; we are your business.” He then instructs them to go and show themselves to the religious and political establishment. “You’re their business now,” he seems to say. And sanctimonious preachers will always highlight the point that only one former leper returned to thank Jesus for his healing and "this is why we should support the stewardship campaign. Amen."But there is something often overlooked that is happening in the story. The one who returned to thank Jesus wasn’t of Jesus’ ethnic or religious group.The one who returned to express gratitude was a Samaritan, a sworn enemy of Jesus’ people.
“The foreigner”, Jesus asserts, “is the one who praises God.” The one we least expected. The one for whom Jesus was willing to defy social, political, and religious boundaries in order to heal. That is the risk of being each other’s harvest,of being each other’s business, of being each other’s magnitude and bond: we never know which crop will end up getting us through winter.
That too is the risk God takes with us in every Eucharist: the ambiguity of whether the bread and wine we receive will “take”, of whether we will walk away with a deeper sense that we are each other’s harvest, we are each other’s business, we are each other’s magnitude and bond. And how right and fitting that we begin this festal day with the feast of all feasts.
As you know, the word Eucharist comes from a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving”. Because this is all we’re ever doing when we gather at the baptismal font, heard God’s word, and stand at God’s table: Saying thank you. Because we were lepers and were made whole; we were estranged and have been brought near; we exploited and have been forgiven and invited into a life of gratitude. Of thank yous. Of joy. Amen.
Saint John's Cathedral