Do We Hunger and Thirst on Thanksgiving?

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on November 22, 2018

They had enough to eat for three days of entertainment and feasting. Their leader reported that “besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys,” as well as venison, “a peck of meal to a person” and Indian corn. They probably also ate lobster and eels, onions and carrots, and a host of other delights, including the then-innumerable Passenger pigeons.

At that first Thanksgiving, the 53 Pilgrims and the 90 Wampanoag Indians who joined them played a lot of games. They probably had shooting contests with bows and muskets and foot races. They weren’t couch potatoes. (For the record, there were no potatoes that first Thanksgiving, period).

What the Pilgrim’s Really Enjoyed

They must have enjoyed that first Thanksgiving even more than we enjoy Thanksgiving today. But on that day in 1621, they did what the name of the day suggests: they prayed.

The Puritan Pilgrims

Religiously, the devout men and women of the first Thanksgiving were Puritans. They were Reformed Protestants, adherents of the theology of John Calvin. The difference? The Puritans stayed in the Church of England. The Pilgrims left it.

And England itself, for that matter. As “separatists,” they were persecuted. They first moved to religiously tolerant Holland. They began to become so integrated into Dutch culture that their children were beginning to lose their English identity. So they traveled to the New World.

These Pilgrim Puritans were anything but miserable and grim. They loved houses painted in bright colors and wore vivid clothes. They loved poetry, too. And they loved God.

Deeply committed Christians, they gave thanks to God for His blessings. They had found the money to migrate to the new world. They had survived a dangerous voyage across the North Atlantic.

Arriving in the world, they made a home and found friends in the natives. They survived a horrible first year, including a brutal winter. As one wrote a friend in England, they gave thanks to God because He “hath dealt so favourably with us.”

A typical Puritan prayer, found in a 1625 book titled Short Direction for the Daily Exercise of the Christian, offers gratitude to the Lord for His “unspeakable mercy” in providing “meate and drinke for the nourishment of our weake bodies.” Then it asks God for something even more important: “that as we doe hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our soules may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.”

The Food We Must Long For

For what kind of food do we long? “I am the bread of life,” said Jesus. “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). Yet so often, we settle for the cotton candy of the world rather than the meat of Christ and His Word.

“If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God,” writes John Piper, “it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

The Pilgrims knew how to enjoy God’s good gifts, from shellfish and wild turkey to racing with their Indian neighbors. But they also knew how to enjoy God Himself. That’s a lesson the Pilgrims can still teach us.

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