Thanksgiving, 2016. It was almost four hundred years ago that the early settlers crossed the ocean and landed in Plymouth. They came on the Mayflower, a tiny ship packed from stern to starboard with men, women, children and a few animals. There were more than one hundred of them, sailing for months in a space no bigger than a modern two bedroom apartment. They were determined folk, indeed they must have been. They endured sea sickness, fear, loneliness and a general lack of privacy. When they arrived in this new world of America, there were no relatives waiting - no welcoming committee or chamber of commerce. In fact, when they stepped ashore, the hardest part was just beginning. They had to carve a life for themselves out of the rugged and rocky New England landscape. Retreat was no option.
About fifteen years ago, I launched an idea. I asked the good people at Plymouth Plantation if we could hold a Thanksgiving Eve service aboard the Mayflower II, the exact replica of the original ship that docked in 1620. The channels were graciously cleared and an appreciative group of youth from our church boarded ship at nightfall. We were about thirty in number. As we went below decks, we stooped and shuffled into the cramped quarters. The creaking of the masts and the slapping of the waves was our only music as we sat in awe. We were in the place where Thanksgiving started.
The chilly night air came rushing down the open stairway from up on the main deck. It had started to snow. We huddled closer. The wind picked up, pouring through the ports. We served communion. The temperature dropped. We opened the first law of the New Land - the Bible. The night settled in around us. We read aloud these words, penned by the first Pilgrims.
Having undertaken for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
A reading of those ancient words from the original Mayflower Compact enables one to realize they had indeed left everything behind and were looking only forward, despite the hardships and dangers. They were “all in.” No looking back longingly at the comforts of the old world. Clearly - they were together… bound by a purpose.
Today, the ship sails on. No, not the Mayflower. It is rather, the unseen ship that steers through the centuries. It carried the first settlers and carries us - their descendants. It is the ship of Faith and it is bound for a New World. The journey is hard, but the hand of the Almighty is making us strong enough to endure. Blow chilly wind! We will open our mainsail fully and bounce across the waves of open sea before us. We too, are together - bound by purpose. When we all finally step on shore, we will look in awe at the place prepared for us, carved out of glory by the master hand of a Carpenter… Then the hardship will be forever behind us… Press on, Pilgrim. I can see land from here. A Promised Land lies dead ahead. We will enter its gates with Thanksgiving!