Thanksgiving and Repentance: The Crossroads of Generations

Commentary by

Katherine Bussard

Ex. Director & COO

It’s times like these that birthed the American tradition of Thanksgiving. Times when what lay behind included danger, destruction, and despair. Times when what lay ahead seems uncertain at best—when the only certain chance of surviving depends on the aid of Almighty God. Times when reflection, repentance, and renewal are needed to turn towards righteous when other paths seem easier.

When placed at such a crossroads, generations past have turned to the Lord.

For the Pilgrims—who endured years of religious persecution and hardship and a harrowing 66-day voyagge, only to arrive hundreds of miles north of their destination in an unforgiving climate—taking time to seek the Lord and solemnly enter into a covenant with Him “for the glorie of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith” was a way of anchoring their society on the Cornerstone that would withstand the trials ahead. During that first winter, half the pilgrims succumbed to death, but God provided and a year later, the first Thanksgiving feast was held—celebrating God’s faithfulness and remembering the covenant. As Governor Bradford recorded,

“Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversities. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever. Yes, let them which have been redeemed by the Lord, show how He hath delivered them.” 

For the Patriots of the Founding Generation—who fought 8 years of brutal war to win their independence, only to undertake the challenge of the formation of government that would protect and preserve precious God-given liberties for posterity—a National Day of Thanksgiving and prayer, of humbly repenting of personal and national sins and renewing their covenantal commitment to serving the Lord, was deemed the only hope for the American Experiment to succeed. Both houses of Congress turned to the newly elected President and asked him to issue a proclamation calling for our first national Thanksgiving. President Washington thus proclaimed the,

“26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country;….  And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all… to render our national government a blessing to all the people…” (Read the full text of Washington’s Proclamation here.)

For President Lincoln—years into a civil war that threated to end the union that so many earlier generations sacrificed for, and not long after visiting the slaughter at Gettysburg—the only answer was to call the nation back to their knees. He called for a National Day of Thanksgiving modeled after President Washington’s proclamation, and further echoed these thoughts in his

Second Inaugural Address, where he urged the nation to turn back to the One Righteous God,

“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue…still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ With malice toward none with charity for all with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right let us strive on to finish the work we are in… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

It hasn’t always been easy, but the union has held together. At critical moments in history, we have remembered that Cornerstone that helped the Pilgrims weather so many storms. The pattern of thanksgiving and repentance reoccurs throughout our nation’s history. As we turn back to the Lord, repent of our sins, and remember the pledges of our forbearers that this nation would be “for the glorie of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith,” we have time and again seen the faithfulness of the Lord to restore our brokenness and heal our land.

Today, if you look around you and see our nation at a crossroads, or if you are at a crossroads in your own life, remember that the Lord’s invitation to His people is remains open. He beckons us to join Him in a new covenant with Christ:

“I will put my laws into their minds,

and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God,

and they shall be my people.

…and I will remember their sins no more.”

                        —Hebrews 8:10b,12b

What better time to turn from sin and trust the Savior than at Thanksgiving?

What greater cause for praise than to know that God calls us to walk in a new and living way (Hebrews 10:20) in fellowship with Him? Like so many generations before, with humble and grateful hearts, may we turn towards the only one who can heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

May we forever give thanks to our Redeemer!

About the Author

Katherine Bussard
Ex. Director & COO
As Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Salt & Light Global, Katherine works to disciple servant-leaders in all walks of life, equipping them to share the redemptive love and truth of Jesus. She facilitates training in good governance for communities around the state, mentors other Christian women in leadership, and champions sound public policy. In speaking, writing, and serving, Katherine seeks to encourage the body of Christ to see all of who they are what they do through God’s Word. Katherine resides with her husband and partner in Kingdom service, Jeff.

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