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We Gather Together

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Dr. RB McFee



Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and time of the year. I celebrate the season with a somewhat quirky combination of prayerfulness, placing an inflatable turkey (or two this year) on the lawn, and visiting Plymouth Plantation and the Wampanoag Village in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

After all, nothing says “thank you God for what I have” like a light up turkey!

But for me during this season of gratitude, the real heartfelt feelings of thankfulness to our Lord for getting me through the storms of life is a visit to Plymouth. The experience, usually an annual pilgrimage, if you will excuse the turn of phrase, is a powerful reminder to be appreciative of God’s watchfulness. Fortunately there are woodland places to go off and pray, too.

That about half the initial passengers who survived – 53 out of 102 - revealed a thankful countenance for their deliverance through the severe storms of the Atlantic, and the storms of life in early 17th century North America, puts into specific relief the blessings we have, and often take for granted.

Perhaps I’m more fortunate than other folks in that I’ve sailed through near boat swallowing waves on the Atlantic Ocean, in a craft even smaller than Mayflower. Having shared experiences with those who have undergone challenging times often creates an understanding that can’t be acquired vicariously, and can enrich the dialogue.

Moreover the shared sense of relief that comes when the storm is gone, and the seas have become more tranquil, and the feeling of gratitude for God’s deliverance that permeates, these tend to be unique to the survivors. Perhaps that sense of simpatico also draws me to Plymouth Village, to share in those moments with folks representing the ones who also experienced the Lord’s protection, and take time between their chores to express their gratitude.

Or to quote from We Gather Together, the survivors lived this in many ways “Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.”

Then there are the mental, spiritual, and bodily storms (health) we all go through in life.

How do we ride these storms? And not to make light of our challenges, but life in the 21st century is overall a much easier daily experience than that of the 17th century (my last chicken was courtesy of a supermarket, not a neighbor who just knifed one from the flock and traded it for my medical services). Nevertheless personal crisis can be devastating in any century. Death, disease, poverty, all can intrude when we least expect or invite them.

But there is something transformative when we approach life with a spirit of thankfulness. It is, perhaps, the ultimate act of trust in the promise of and provisions from our Lord.

That said, if you have never been to Plymouth, may I recommend the experience. It can have an amazing and inspirational impact, especially at Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which….

One of the great hymns passed down to us many generations ago is the song “We Gather Together.” It is a simple and beautiful piece of liturgical music that captures in many ways the heart and soul of Thanksgiving. Consider the lyrics

“We Gather Together”

Author unknown (Dutch? 1597), Dutch melody 1626, arr Eduard Kremser, published 1877

Verse 1

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens His will to make known;

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;

Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Verse 2

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,

Ordaining, maintaining His Kingdom Divine,

So from the beginning the fight we were winning’

Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

Verse 3

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,

And pray that Thou still our Defender will be;

Let thy congregation escape tribulation;

Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Truth be told, except for Christmas carols, this is one of my favorite hymns. Pity it seems relegated to one brief time of year, when it codifies simply, beautifully, and authentically our relationship with, dependence on, and gratitude for our Lord, our God.

And the message of gathering together, is as Christ-like as it gets.

As people of faith, we gather together in community worship. And we do so for multiple reasons. First, God ordained it! Why? Something happens with us, for us, in us, when we share our faith communally. We can affirm, teach, inspire, console, and share the Love of Jesus when we are together in a way that solo worship cannot provide.