Jeremiah Damir Bašurić
Preaching Pastor mosaicHouse Church
Who had the first Thanksgiving? Canada or America? Neither. Indigenous Peoples had festivals of thanks after harvest time many years before Turtle Island was called Canada or America, such as the week-long thanksgiving feasts of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Both American and Canadian thanksgiving stories are based on the hospitality of the Indigenous Peoples to the European newcomers. In the USA it was the generosity of the Wampanoag. In Canada, the Mi’kmaq literally saved the lives of the French colonists from scurvy by giving them vitamin C enriched berries.
Unfortunately, this hospitality was not usually reciprocated in love and respect. In fact, at the supposed first Thanksgiving in Canada, the French colonists responded to the hospitality of the Mi’kmaq by showing the Indigenous peoples a play in which the Indigenous peoples pledged their allegiance to the European colonists and supported European sovereignty over the land. Such was the beginning of an unequal and abusive relationship.
It was not until the late 1800s that people, especially Protestant Christians from Ontario, started advocating for Thanksgiving in Canada to become a national holiday. Canada was changing, such as through secularization and immigration, and the church was going through a hard time. Influential Protestant Christians wanted Canada to reclaim its Christian roots by establishing a Christian holiday.
During the American Civil war, there were many Christians who believed that because Canada did not have slavery (which of course was not true), they were the true chosen people of God on God’s chosen land. A bountiful harvest would affirm this truth that Canada was the home of God’s chosen people, not America. Unfortunately, when they said ‘chosen people’ they really meant Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
In the 1860s movements like “Canada First” called for cultural institutions like Thanksgiving to support white Protestant Canada that celebrated farm, family, and religious devotion. This organization, in particular, disparaged the Métis, French, and Catholics during the Red River Rebellion. Sermons on thanksgiving became weapons in the hands of Protestant Christian nationalists. On Thanksgiving Sunday in 1885, one preacher in Winnipeg called for the need to reconstruct society. The country’s future “peace and prosperity” relied on Canada to “Christianize and civilize the Indian” Of course we know that one of the main and horrific ways Canada and the church did this was through Residential Schools.
Indigenous peoples were no longer seen as hospitable neighbours; there were seen as enemies to be assimilated. Ironically, it is argued that one of the main reasons the Protestant church lost its influence on Thanksgiving is because its white Protestant vision for Canada excluded so many people including Indigenous peoples, newcomers, Catholics, and the working class. Though God sent the church to serve and reach a nation, it failed miserably – in the name of a loving God, Christians hurt their neighbours instead of loving them.
In Luke 10:1-12, Jesus uses an image to describe the way he sends out his followers into the world: lambs. Unfortunately, many Christians have looked more like wolves than sheep in their mission. We are coercive, aggressive, and even violent in our zeal. Unlike looking like Jesus who heals, sacrifices, and reconciles, we look more like predators who kill, steal and destroy. Jesus teaches us that Christians are called to be like lambs – vulnerable and submissive to the Shepherd. Rather than using our power to force Christianity on others, Jesus calls us to give up our power.
Instead of bringing food to the people you are trying to reach, Jesus tells his disciples to eat what is given them when they are invited into a home. In the context of Luke 10 most of the towns that the disciples went to were in Samaria. Although Jews and Samaritans had similar dietary laws, Jews believed Samaritans were ceremonially unclean and food touched by Samaritans would also be unclean. Instead of imposing their cultural and religious customs on the Samaritans, Jesus commands disciples to embrace the culture of their hosts. Like lambs, followers of Jesus were at the mercy of the hospitality of the people they were trying to reach.
In Luke 10 we see that where hospitality is, God is. The disciples were called to enter a town and see who would show them hospitality. This would be a sign that God was at work and that the disciples were called to stay there. Where there was no hospitality that is where God’s judgment was – a judgment worse than Sodom. In fact, commentators argue that the main sin of Sodom was inhospitality. Ezekiel 16:49 says “‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” I believe God was working in Indigenous peoples when the first colonists came to Canada, however, the colonists failed to stay like sheep. As they gained power, they became arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they failed to help the vulnerable. In fact, they oppressed them even more. If we continue down this path, our fate will be worse than that of Sodom.
The reality is that we cannot be sheep on our own. Sin causes our hearts to be more like a wolf than a lamb no matter how hard we try. In this way, we are just as unclean as the colonists who came to Canada. The good news, our only hope, is that Jesus died and rose from the dead. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are forgiven of our sins against God and our neighbours. Also our old selves, that violent wolf, was crucified with Christ. That wolf inside us is wriggling dead. What's more, because Jesus rose from the dead, his life as the Lamb of God rises up inside us. God himself, through the Holy Spirit is transforming us into his sheep. We are new creation. As we go with Jesus into the world, he is transforming us to be his sheep – to be like him – people who vulnerably trust in God and are submissive to the shepherd. Because of this good news, Jesus ought to be our focus this Thanksgiving season.
After looking into the history of Thanksgiving in Canada, I despaired. Then the words of my Indigenous Friend, Parry Stelter, nudged me towards hope this season. He wrote “Jesus is my focus as I think about the true reason for Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for Jesus, family, friends, the church, all my fellow Indigenous people, and how one day all this pain and unresolved trauma will be erased forever, when all who follow Jesus will reach heaven” Though the church has failed to be like lambs and we still stumble along, Jesus is our hope. He heals, sends, restores and empowers us to be like his sheep.