Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last Thanksgiving

This excerpt comes from e-sermons.

It is interesting to note that it wasn’t until we were at war, the Civil War
to be exact, that our Thanksgiving holiday was officially recognized by
Congress. It had started in the small Plymouth Colony in 1621 when the
English Pilgrims feasted with members of the Wampanoag (Wam·pa·no·ag)
Indians who brought gifts of food as a gesture of goodwill. The custom grew
in various colonies as a means of celebrating the harvest. In 1777, over 100
years later, the continental congress proclaimed a national day of
Thanksgiving after the American Revolution victory at the Battle of
Saratoga. But it was twelve years later that George Washington proclaimed
another national day of thanksgiving in honor of the ratification of the
Constitution and requested that the congress finally make it an annual
event. They declined and it would be another 100 years and the end of a
bloody civil war before President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last
Thursday in November Thanksgiving. The year was 1865. It might surprise you
to learn that it took still another 40 years, the early 1900’s, before the
tradition really caught on. For you see Lincoln’s official Thanksgiving was
sanctioned in order to bolster the Union’s morale. Many Southerners saw the
new holiday as an attempt to impose Northern customs on their conquered

Thanksgiving today is a mild-mannered holiday full of football, hot apple
pie, and family reunions. But that’s not a realistic historical picture of
Thanksgiving. It is more often born of adversity and difficult times. So
many of the greatest expressions of thanksgiving have occurred under
circumstances so debilitating one wonders why people give thanks. It would
seem the more reasonable response would be bitterness and ingratitude.

Paul writing from a prison cell and probably knowing that he would soon die
by the guillotine writes to the Philippians, “I give thanks to my Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor imprisoned in
1943 for his political and Christian opposition to the Nazi regime, was
executed two years later. On the day that the sentence was carried out he
conducted a service for the other prisoners. One of those prisoners, an
English officer who survived, wrote these words:

Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy
over the least incident, and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he
was alive… He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God
was real and always near… On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer
conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to
the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit
of our imprisonment, and the thoughts and resolutions it had brought us. He
had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians
entered. They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one
meaning for all prisoners–the gallows. We said good-bye to him. He took me
aside: “This is the end; but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next
day he was hanged in Flossenburg.

Out of great suffering have come the greatest expressions of gratitude. And
so I suggest to you this morning, we have all the more reason to celebrate

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Posted on November 20, 2006, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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