- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

The following are excerpts from a pre-recorded sermon by Bishop John B. Chane of the Washington National Cathedral for national broadcast on Thanksgiving Day.

President Abraham Lincoln, wearied by a bloody Civil War that threatened to destroy the union and the very future of the American dream, proclaimed a day of National Thanksgiving. …

Said he, “The year that is drawing to its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart, which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due Him for such singular deliverance and blessings, they also with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, command to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes to full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.” …

From its outset, Thanksgiving Day was set aside by both President Lincoln and the Congress of the United States so that all Americans could gather together in their own way to give thanks and pray, thanking God for the many blessings bestowed upon this great nation and each of us.

As a native New Englander, Thanksgiving for me has always taken on a unique, historic perspective. It was a time for our own “regional” recollection of Thanksgiving — the very first Thanksgiving celebrated in 1621 to commemorate the bountiful harvest that had come to the settlers of the Plymouth colony after the very severe winter of 1620.

And adding to the significance of that first Thanksgiving in Massachusetts was the day’s sharing with the Pilgrim settlers’ neighbors, the Wampanoag Indians, who came to the celebration bringing their own bounty to the feast, which some have said was the very first potluck supper ever celebrated on American shores. …

Behind me is a very famous statue of Abraham Lincoln, located in the northwest corner of Washington National Cathedral. And more often than not, whenever I pass by this statue, I reach out and touch the outstretched hand and fingers of this great president.

And I am not alone in doing this. If you come to visit this cathedral, the sixth-largest cathedral in the world, you will see that Lincoln’s bronzed fingers are worn and brightly polished by millions of other fingers that have passed by this majestic likeness and reached out in a symbolic way to touch greatness.

And what was so special about this president that still quickens the hearts of generations who never knew him and a president who continues to rest in our consciousness as a president defined by the word greatness? Lincoln was a great man and president because in the midst of severe trouble and crisis in the life of this new democracy, he took the time to stop and reflect that his was a life of servanthood, as he understood it to be from his reading of the Bible.

He was a president who redefined the word tolerance. And because of his humility as a servant and his understanding of tolerance, he asked a war-torn nation to stop and remember that in the best and worst of times, we are all children of God and all that we are and all that we have comes from a most “High God.”

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