Offering Thanks Like a Pilgrim

Around 200 people gathered last night at Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church for a Thanksgiving Service. Brethren from the Elkhart, Lafayette, and West Lafayette RP congregations joined us for this annual event, along with friends from other churches and the community.

With the title above serving as our theme, the evening began with the following explanation:

The roots of Thanksgiving in our nation are found in those first Pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Mayflower in 1620. After 66 days at sea, they arrived at what would be called the Plymouth colony on November of that year in what is today Massachusetts. Right before they landed, 41 persons on board gathered and signed the Mayflower Compact, which was a document explaining how this new colony would be governed. It was a covenant that spoke of how they would order and preserve themselves in order to accomplish the goal of their voyage, which was done (I quote from the Compact) “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country.”

They would need their faith in God. William Bradford, the eventual governor of the colony, suffered the tragedy of having his own wife drown while the Mayflower was still anchored in the harbor and unloading passengers and supplies. On land, harsh weather, lack of food, and threats by Indians met them. Despite their best efforts to build shelter quickly and to endure the winter, by April of 1621 half of the original 102 people had died.

Yet through the spring and summer of that next year their fortunes turned. Crops began to grow. More permanent housing was built. Peace occurred with the Indians native to the region. So in the fall of 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to be shared by all the colonists and the Native Americans who had helped them. The thanksgiving turned into a three day event filled with feasting and laughter, and games and races took place.

During it all, whether laying a loved on in a freshly dug grave or rejoicing over a birth or harvest in the new land, the Pilgrims continually turned to the psalms of the Bible to express their heart cries and joys to the Lord. Being of Puritan belief, they had set aside ceremony in worship so common in their homeland for the simplicity of worshiping God in spirit and truth. As such, the Pilgrims used the psalm-book written by Henry Ainsworth in 1612, believing that the singing of the Word of God was commanded in the Scriptures and exemplified in the life of Christ and His apostles. They used the Ainsworth Psalter because they believed it to be a more true and literal translation of the Psalms. We are going to begin our service tonight by singing Psalm 100 from this psalter (Note: A page featuring a portion of this psalm from the 1612 Ainsworth Psalter is pictured above.)

Yet we are singing this psalm and others for more than sentimental reasons. The Pilgrim’s example and story are worth noting, for we are to see ourselves as on a pilgrimage to a better country. Those who have been brought out of the death and destruction of sin and into the kingdom of the eternal God by the work of Jesus Christ are like Israel of old – we are on a pilgrimage through this world’s wilderness to our heavenly destination. The Psalm book is written for pilgrims, and as the structure of this service will show, gives us:

  • the cries we need to express in our distress,
  • the direction we need for our journey,
  • the redemption we need as found only in Christ,
  • and the promise we need that heaven indeed will be granted to those who walk by faith.

We then enjoyed a service of singing these types of psalms, reading of relevant Scripture, and prayers of gratitude. Toward the conclusion, we also sang Psalm 23 from the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (the first book published in America), as its familiar words of the Good Shepherd leading His sheep along a path that passes through enemies and dark vales ends with the assurance that He will bring us to His home – a true pilgrim’s anthem! For our final selection, we sang from Psalm 84 and experienced in our hearts this truth that it contains:

Blest are they who in Thy Strength confide, and in whose heart are pilgrims’ ways!

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