How's Your Thanksgiving? A brief reflection on humanity's fallenness and the church gathered as its visible and concrete reversal
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Not seemingly a good verse for Thanksgiving . . . ah, but it is.
In Romans 1:21, Paul sums up the characteristics of fallen humanity, which results in corrupted thinking and social darkness (my read of their foolish hearts were darkened). I find it interesting that the two defining characteristics Paul gives of our fallenness are "they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him." Not giving thanks, this is not merely the lack of "an attitude of gratitude" nor is it not counting our blessings (both of course are good things). A far better read stems from the Greco-Roman banquet-meal and the after supper symposium Thus, like the household banquet-meal and after supper symposium--typical of the Roman era, a debased scene acting out the tiers of human hierarchy, an event that displayed the cheapening of one human life over another, where patronage and power were honored and the pantheon of gods celebrated.
So, Paul hit the two aspects dead-on: The honoring of the special guest at the table and the giving of thanks for his patronage or favor or place in society. The lifting of the cup at the end would have been for the honor and thanksgiving of the household gods, the guild-gods, the village gods, the gods of the patron-guest, even for the patron himself, and, of course, for Caesar. This is the God dishonoring scene, all followed at the symposium by drunkenness and orgies that portrayed the tiers of human hierarchy, the debased treatment of women, slaves, and children--all for the honor and thanks to the guest of the supper, and, to Caesar.
Saying the words, which of course, is proper, that we honor God and give Him thanks, is easy, demonstrating it in our actions is what counts. Thanksgiving, our thanksgiving (especially at the times of the gathered-church) should show the reversal of this (of Romans 1:21ff.).
Back in Rome, in small storefront workshops and at top of stacked urban apartments where the Hagioi of Rome, the saints who were among the house-churches in Rome, would meet to eat together and celebrate (honor and give thanks), and remember the arrest, suffering, and resurrection of Jesus—honoring God and giving Him thanks sprang from the church gathered, that event and space where men rubbed shoulders with women, citizens with slaves, and children even were welcomed. Honoring and thanking God, you see, gave birth to the space where all were equally redeemed by Christ, all equally beloved by God--the opposite of of the hierarchies being demonstrated elsewhere at tables and on the streets of Rome.
The fact that Paul, himself, gives this household banquet and after supper symposium as the setting (Romans 12-15) for the house-churches in Rome (chp 16) is striking: "The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God" (Romans 14:6). The "honor" and "giving of thanks" parallel (with Romans 1:21) cannot be dismissed as coincidental. This new family. This eschatological event. This supper and table of the redeemed was a concert, visible, action (something done to, for, and with others) was the proof that humanity's fallen condition had been reversed.
And, this is what changed the world.
How's your Thanksgiving? What are you doing to honor God and give Him thanks? Don't just use your words.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.