And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
-Leonard Cohen, “Hallelujah”
Hopefully, you’re having a banner year – one for the books. The stars align and everything’s coming up you. Babies smile at you, old people are grateful for you, good people respect you and bad people leave you alone. You have a lot to be thankful for. Make your gratitude list, have seconds of sweet potato casserole and pause to appreciate the moment.
Everyone goes through seasons, and some seasons seem to last longer than others.
This is for the people who aren’t having a banner year.
You got laid off.
You shook your fist at cancer and it didn’t matter.
You picked up your kid from the police station.
You picked up your parent from the police station.
You found that text on your spouse’s phone.
You discovered untruthful gossip following you around.
You discovered truthful gossip following you around.
You arranged a funeral for someone.
You filled an antidepressant prescription.
You should’ve filled an antidepressant prescription.
The turkey is warm, but it’s a cold and broken thanksgiving. Shards of life lie mocking on the floor in the near-shape of their original wholeness and you catch a glimpse of your fractured reflection, a distortion of what was and what should be. And when you count your blessings it’s with gritted teeth or a sense of cruel, useless irony or a numbed, deadened mimic of routine.
What happens when the Mona Lisa is torn apart and the pieces don’t fit and you’re left with a grotesque Picasso? The features are there, but out of place, misaligned, foreign, unfamiliar. Nieces and nephews will recognize you as you walk through the door, but you know, deep down, that you’re struggling to find parts of yourself that you recognize as you sort through remnants, shards, rubble.
You compare your cold and broken thanksgiving to the vast suffering of the world to try to force perspective, to resist the darkness. I have a roof. I have food. My neighbors weren’t just bombed.
But sometimes even Aunt Bev’s homemade pie tastes stale when your heart is re-breaking every few minutes while you make small talk.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.
All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears
because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.
My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
Let’s all go around and say what we’re thankful for…
Your year flashes in bits and pieces in front of your mind and you search for a socially appropriate response that doesn’t include “good medical attention after a miscarriage” or “pro bono lawyers” or “insightful marriage and family therapists.”
Pass the stuffing.
Because you also know by now that faith and hope and love are more than a French bistro-style inspirational poster hanging in the dining room. They’re not feelings, they’re bedrock reality that keep you sane because you know they’re more than trite platitudes.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer
Hither by thy help I’ve come
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Hither by thy help, I’ve come. Here, through your help, I’ve come. Here, with your help, I’ve finally arrived. And I hope, because of your nature, to also arrive safely home.
Ebenezer: the stone of help. A memorial to overcoming by the grace of God. “A commemoration of divine assistance.”
Friend, do whatever you need to do to sit at the table, to steel your soul and give thanks. Giving thanks is a choice, whether you’re in an expensive subdivision or a soup kitchen or the smoldering ruins of your neighborhood. Wear something that makes you feel strong. Find a small phrase from a song or scripture and force it through your head. Set your phone’s alarm to go off regularly just to remind you to pray “Christ, have mercy,” or to reopen a loving email.
Put on your Superman boxers and set to work mentally constructing your memorial stone that etches onto the landscape the living reality of faith: here, in this foyer full of people, I raise a stone of commemoration. This year, by the grace of God, I made it to this foyer. By God’s help, I made it to the church, which felt like a trek across a universe of pain. Here I stack my rocks that have been thrown at me, leaving me bruised and bloodied. I will stack them tall to scream at the cosmos that I’ve come this far by the goodness of God and that God willing, I’ll make it home.
It may be a cold and broken thanksgiving but it is not destroyed.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
Eucharisteo: I give thanks. “This is my Body, broken for you for the forgiveness of sins. Eat this in remembrance of me.”
The Body Broken will strengthen and sustain us through any and every holiday meal: the Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, gives us the taste of Ebenezer. Here, at this place, I take and eat, here, at this place, I taste and give thanks for a broken Savior. By your help, God, to this place I’ve come.
Taste and see that the Lord is good…
Let’s bow our heads and say grace.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer…
“How have you been? I haven’t heard from you lately.”
I’m taking rocks that have left me stunned and broken and crafting a monument from them.
I’m glad you’re here.
So am I. By the grace of God, I’ve made it this far. And I hope by God’s good grace, safely to make it home.