By Rev. Donavon Riley
The "Hallel Psalms" or, "Psalms of Praise and Thanksgiving" have been used for thousands of years as a special prayer by observant Jews. On holidays the Jewish faithful recite, verbatim, from Psalms 113-118, which are used for praise and thanksgiving.
In the congregation that I serve, we use the Hallel Psalms in a similar way. Every year, on Thanksgiving Day, we gather in the morning before tables are set, furniture is rearranged, and pies are baked, to praise and offer thanks to our heavenly Father, the Giver of every good gift. We read the Thanksgiving Psalms responsively, not just to offer thanks for material, earthly gifts, but especially for the gifts of salvation that enlighten us so that we may see all things as gift from God.
The Hallel Psalms point us to Jesus and the fact that nobody can hope to live by bread alone. Instead, Christians confess that as Jesus teaches, we "live by every word that comes from God's mouth." Psalms 113-118 remind us that even though Thanksgiving is a cultural holiday—the one day of the year set aside for people to specifically "give thanks" for family, friends, and so on—for Christians, every day is "Thanksgiving Day." Every day we're turned toward Calvary's cross, toward Jesus crucified for us. Sin? Forgiven. Death? Jesus knocked out its teeth. Satan? Powerless before the Name of Christ. Every day for Christians is a celebration of Jesus' victory over all the powers that crush and kill us. Every day opens up to us the truth about the source of every good gift, in this life and life hereafter.
So, before we sit down for turkey and gravy, cranberries and stuffing, and all those delicious pies, we acknowledge to God and one another that on account of Jesus' bloody suffering and death for us that we're free to sit and eat and rejoice in earthly gifts, and even the lack of earthly things. Jesus sets us free to be people of God—baptized children of the Father, who receive every day as free gift and "all the fullness therein."
This year, then, maybe before the first guests arrive or while you're on your way to whomever is hosting the Thanksgiving meal, check out Psalms 113-118: the Hallel Psalms, the Psalms of praise and thanksgiving. And give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His faithful, lovingkindness for you endures forever. Amen.
Rev. Donavon Riley is the pastor of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota. He is also the online content manager for Higher Things.
Created: November 24th, 2016