An Edwards-ian Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a feel-good holiday. All Americans know, or think they know, about the "first Thanksgiving" celebration among helpful American Indians and grateful Pilgrims. Some Americans know, at least vaguely, that the national tradition is also connected to war. Abraham Lincoln began the annual observance in 1863, as the Civil War was nearing its bloody crescendo, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the federal holiday official by signing a bill in December 1941, a few weeks after Pearl Harbor. But hey, those wars happened a long time ago, and they were noble wars, and the good guys won. As the twentieth century spun on, Thanksgiving became synonymous with plenty, even excess, prompting an annual round of reduced-fat recipes, dieting tips, and warnings about the lethargy brought on by too much turkey. The dominant image was Norman Rockwell's iconic "Freedom from Want," another World War II artifact symbolizing all that was right with America and could be right with the world following an Allied victory.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), America's foremost theologian, held forth a very different vision in his 1739 Thanksgiving sermon.
Naturally, Edwards could have known nothing of the Civil War or World War II. He did know about cooperation and conflicts between European settlers and American Indians; in 1750, having been forced from his prestigious Northampton parish, he became a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. But no meditations on ethnic harmony, national success, or bountiful harvests informed his sermon. Instead, he took as his text Luke 8:2-3 (NIV): "and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna ...