Grains of corn were the earliest symbol of thanksgiving in our country. For years, in the original colonies, five grains of corn were distributed to every man, woman, and child to help them remember the first hard winter in America, when every pilgrim received five grains of corn as a daily ration.
When the pilgrims set foot in America, it was November 21, 1620 – too late to plant any crops. Only the goodness of the Indians saved them from total starvation. Not wanting to forget their early hardships, they laid by each plate on Thanksgiving Day five grains of corn. When food became more plentiful and the colonies were well-established, it was a symbol of the difficulties they had known and a vivid reminder to be thankful to God for life.
GOD’S REST AND OURS (2:1-3). The first portion of this primeval faith story climaxes with the introduction of the Sabbath. Following the creation of humankind, God blessed and sanctified the seventh day as a time of rest apart from the routine and ordinary. This created rest is a new thing in the activity of God. It is not simply a convenient end to the Creator’s process or an appended afterthought.
God completed His work on the seventh day. This rest is not a thing for God alone but for the entire created order. It is as well part of the relationship between Creator and that which He created.
Because God is sufficiently confident to rest, all human beings are encouraged to trust God and to celebrate a day of rest. Meaningful existence does not depend on the continual, frantic activity of self-willed humanity. The rhythm of life as God intended it requires a rest from work during which life may be received simply as a gift.
The Sabbath is part of the Creator’s work to bring order out of disorder. The rest it provides is divinely designed to restore order to our lives. John Greenleaf Whittier’s hymn prays to the “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind:”
O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above.
Take from our lives the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
WORSHIPPING THE LORD (4:25-26). Murderous Cain’s genealogy ends; Seth replaces Abel; and humanity is traced through Seth, who marks the beginning of new life. The God with whom Cain pled provides another child, a continuance of humankind. It is to this gracious God that the renewed family turns. They embrace Him in worship, reviving their reliance on the Creator God.
The concluding awareness in chapter 4 moves from the rebellious human disobedience and the radical sin of Cain through the development of culture and civilization (4:17-22) to confessional religion in which God is worshiped.
WORSHIP THROUGH THANKSGIVING (8:18-22). By God’s mercy the flood ends and life begins again. The inhabitants of the ark emerge and an act of worship and thanksgiving to God follows. However, the act of creaturely worship does not resolve God’s anger. The experience did not alter the basic nature of people.
In fact, God concludes that humankind is hopelessly set against His intentions. Sin characterizes all people. The grief God felt in His heart (6:6) is matched by the determination of God’s heart to provide a newness. Humankind cannot resolve God’s anger; God takes the initiative Himself. He does what only He can do. That is our hope for meaningful life now and in the future; our hope depends on a move from God.
Furthermore, God is due our thanksgiving and worship because He resolves to preserve and maintain His world, despite the sinful distortions of His purpose by humanity. This new divine decree reaffirms His active vision for creation.
While the judgment flood did not transform humankind’s essential nature, the narrative perceives the change on God’s intensified commitment to relate to His creation with unlimited patience and long suffering.
As in Romans 3:25, God’s righteousness is not experienced as judgment but as gracious compassion. God does not stand apart from fractured humanity and the broken created order. God’s troubled, grieving heart reaches out in love to embrace humankind’s sinful heart.
This God who Himself intentionally rested calls us to a life’s rhythm punctuated by regular changes in our activity, that is, to rest. His Son extends the Creator’s invitation (Matthew 11:28-30). Rest renews life.
The same God who ensured the continuance of the primeval family by providing another son renewed life and became the subject of thankful praise. Worship renews life.
And this steadfastly merciful Lord who has acted dramatically on the basis of His gracious live promises through the routines of the natural order to preserve and sustain us. He is worthy of our worship through thanksgiving!
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.