Once again, the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us and our minds are filled with images of pilgrims and pumpkin pie. All across our nation it is a time of family gatherings, feasting, and football. Such celebration can be good and godly, but it can best be these things if we remember the holiday’s origins and truly enter into the spirit of giving thanks. The pilgrims have much to teach us about thanksgiving.
Who were these people we know as the pilgrims? They were Puritans who felt conscience-bound to separate from the Church of England when that church in 1604 demanded strict conformity to the Book of Common Prayer in worship. These Puritans longed for a more thoroughgoing Reformation in order to worship only in ways clearly mandated in Scripture. At first, they worshiped secretly in homes in England, but persecution was on the rise. One such group in the town of Scrooby soon realized that they would have to leave the country in order to worship freely. They went first to Holland, but troubles there signaled time for another move. When the Mayflower set sail for America in 1620, 37 of its 102 passengers were Puritan Separatists from Scrooby that had settled in Holland. Many in the community stayed behind in Holland with their pastor, John Robinson, intending to join their friends and loved ones in America later on.
The two-month trans-Atlantic voyage was often rough and miserable, and things only got worse when they reached the New World in November. They began building their settlement in the midst of a deadly winter, through which only 55 of the 102 passengers survived. Eight children who had come with at least one parent now had none. Of 18 adult women, only four survived. Many reunions planned with those left behind in Holland would now take place only in heaven. It was a bitter beginning.
Spring and summer brought a peace treaty with the Indians, who helped teach the settlers how to farm in the New World. Crops were limited but sufficient for survival when combined with the fruits of foraging and hunting. When the harvest came in, there was a three-day celebration by about 50 settlers and 90 native Americans. It was a time of feasting, recreation, and giving thanks to God for the blessings of the harvest. This celebration is commemorated by our Thanksgiving holiday.
How was it that these settlers could be so thankful after all the tragic losses of the previous year? I suggest it was because they were true pilgrims. They didn’t generally refer to themselves in this way. The closest they came to doing so is a statement by William Bradford in his book, Of Plymouth Plantation:
So they left that goodly and pleasant city [Leyden in Holland] which had been their resting place near twelve years; but they knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to heaven, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.
This language echoes that of Hebrews 11.13-14, which speaks of believers as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” who “seek a [heavenly] homeland.” The Separatists from Scrooby were pilgrims in the same way Bunyan’s character, Christian, was a pilgrim. They were pilgrims on earth making their way to the Celestial City. That eternal perspective made it possible for them to experience such great sorrow through the winter and yet emerge thankful for the good things God gave to them.
If we would celebrate Thanksgiving in the spirit of these early settlers, we also should cultivate an identity as pilgrims on earth making our way to the heavenly city. When sorrows come to us, we can know that God is with us in them and that they will not last forever. We can give Him thanks for every good gift He sends our way.
When you gather with your family and friends on Thanksgiving Day, remember these pilgrims and their harvest feast of celebration before God. Review the past year with its blessings and hardships, and reflect on God’s faithfulness to you in it. Offer sincere and specific prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord who is leading you on your pilgrimage. And then, like those pilgrims of old, enjoy the feasting and fun that should characterize your Christian faith.
Reformation Conference 2022
Sunday, October 30th
Guest Speaker: Dr. Bradley G. Green
Theme: “Faith & Works: A Reformational Perspective”
9:30 AM: Morning Worship Service
Sermon: “Justification and Divine Forbearance” (Ro. 3:21-26)
11:00 AM: Sunday School
“Faith and Works, Part I”
12 Noon: Fellowship Meal (Fellowship Hall)
5 PM: Evening Worship Service
“Faith and Works, Part II”
Covenant Presbyterian Church will host a concert by New Song on Sunday, July 10th, at 11 AM. New Song is a musical ministry of Geneva College (the denominational college of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America). Current student members carry on the 45 year New Song tradition featuring the a cappella singing of psalms and other church music.
You are invited to join us for worship at 9:30 AM followed by the concert at 11. Our address is 3720 N. Highland Avenue, Jackson, TN 38305.
Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
After a painting by Bruce Herman
the flailing figures
plummet through the heavens,
victims of a self-willed force –
the gravity of hubris.
Forsaking and forsaken,
their only choice is to embrace
with outstretched arms
the consequence of choices past.
as if some law of conservation
maintained a cosmic metaphysics,
their hope lost
may be gained
by him who would strain his eyes to trace
their vapor trails of glory
Poem: © 2022, Steven C. Wright
Painting: Falling Angels, by Bruce Herman, 1993. Mixed Media. 44 x 30 inches. Used by permission of the artist. (www.bruceherman.com)
Psalm Sunday worship: Sunday, April 10th, 9:30 AM
Good Friday service: Friday, April 15th, 6:00 PM
Easter Sunday worship: Sunday, April 17th, 9:30 AM
Please plan to join us for these services celebrating Christ’s victory for our salvation accomplished through His death and resurrection.
Our tradition at Covenant PCA is to have a Service of Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. We will do so again on Friday, December 24th, at 6 PM, and all are invited to join us. In this post, I will share some of the historical background for this special service.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a tradition begun by Anglican Bishop E. W. Benson, who first employed it as a Christmas Eve service at Truro Cathedral in England in 1880. His son later wrote about it:
My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve — nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the church beginning with a chorister, and ending, through different grades with a bishop.
This service was adapted in 1918 by Dean Eric Milner-White for use in King’s College, Cambridge, where it has become an annual Christmas Eve tradition. The performance there has been broadcast on the radio almost every year since 1928. Milner-White explained the purpose of the service in these words:
Its liturgical order and pattern is the strength of the service; the main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God, from the Creation to the Incarnation, through the windows and words of the Bible: the scriptures, not the carols, are the backbone.
Our service at Covenant is an adaptation of this traditional service, and our goal is the same — to walk through the Scriptures to see how the redemptive history they record led to the birth of our Savior. We employ congregational reading and congregational singing throughout the service with a brief pastoral meditation. Please join us to take part in our Service of Lessons and Carols on Friday, December 24th, at 6 PM.
9:30 AM: Worship Service (“The Purpose of Worship”)
11:15 AM: Sunday School (“Calvin on Worship”)
12 Noon: Potluck Fellowship Meal (Fellowship Hall)
5 PM: Evening Worship (“Biblical Preaching”)
Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. is President Emeritus and Professor of Systematic
& Applied Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He
has served as pastor of PCA churches in Mississippi, Texas, and
California. Dr. Pipa earned his Ph.D. with a thesis on “William Perkins and
the Development of Puritan Preaching” at Westminster Theological
Seminary. He is an author of or contributor to many books, including The
Root and Branch, The Lord’s Day, Galatians: God’s Proclamation of
Liberty, and The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Biblical Worship.
Dr. Pipa is a frequent guest preacher and speaker at Reformed churches
Each summer, Covenant sends a team to conduct a Vacation Bible School program in Hermanville, MS. That community was struck hard by the recent bad weather, losing power and drinking water. We were pleased to be able to to send a few of our folks with a shipment of water to help out. Please continue to pray for our friends in Hermanville, as they have continuing mercy needs.
Beginning Sunday, February 7th, our youth and adults will be viewing and discussing the 12-episode Ken Ham video series, The Foundations. In Psalm 11:3, David asks, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” In his convicting yet often-humorous style, Australian-born Ken Ham addresses urgent concerns in society and reveals what must be done to reach today’s culture for Christ.
The following topics will be discussed:
- The Relevance of Genesis
- Always Ready (Evangelism)
- Revealing the Unknown God
- In Six Days
- One Blood, One Race (Racism)
- Death the Enemy
Join us for The Foundations series on Sunday mornings at 11 AM.