Psalm 118 begins and ends with the same words of thanksgiving: “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” This Hebrew word for love—“hesed”—could also be rendered as “loyalty.”
Thanksgiving is a discipline of loyalty—and also anticipation. For all the assurances of the past, thanksgiving rituals can still convey yearning, sometimes borne in doubt. Among Western cultures, such rituals have roots in ancient harvest festivals when ample crops were hoped for, though far from guaranteed. Our national holiday began during civil war, and still commemorates the immigrants who saw themselves—in the words of the Geneva Bible—as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth," exiles awaiting their "better country" in the presence of God. In his new commentary on the Psalms, Tremper Longman observes that Psalm 118 was the “final song in the Egyptian Hallel,” commonly sung after the Passover meals in celebration of God’s protection during the exodus. It was a rite of expectation, not just remembrance. As Tremper remarks, the weaving of this psalm into the familiar Passover liturgy “explains its widespread use in the Gospels as an anticipation of Jesus.” Both Jesus and Peter cite the psalm more than once to underscore messianic themes. Giving thanks can nourish hope.
This Thanksgiving I am mindful of the friendship of Jud Carlberg, president emeritus of Gordon College, who died last week—far too soon, like some of our beloved colleagues at Westmont. Recalling their spirit of loyalty and thanksgiving, often most evident on the darkest days, helps us rekindle our own aptitudes for vision and gratitude.