For more than fifty years, Bob Vogelbaugh has made sure that his Moline, Illinois, community is well fed on Thanksgiving Day.
The former grocery store owner started this tradition in 1970 to include some of his customers who were going to be alone on Thanksgiving Day. What began as a small gathering inside his grocery store has grown to fill an entire food court in an area mall. He and his volunteers served more than 3,200 people this year.
“It’s not a charity dinner,” he said. “It’s just a Thanksgiving gathering of friends and people you don’t know and some people have become friends through this over the years.”
“It will not always be like this”
A pastor was famous for beginning every Sunday service with an invocation focused on thanksgiving. He would give thanks to God for events across the week, occurrences in the life of the church, and even the good weather.
However, one Sunday morning the congregation gathered in the midst of a terrible blizzard. The roads were icy; most people could not even make it to church. As the pastor stepped to the pulpit to offer his customary invocation, the few members in attendance wondered to themselves what reasons he could possibly find to give thanks on this miserable day.
The pastor began his prayer by describing the weather in all its ferocity. Then he paused and prayed, “And, dear Lord, we thank you that it is not always like this.”
November saw thirty-three mass shootings; there have been 606 so far this year. A new report warns that the threat of a measles outbreak is growing due to a significant decline in vaccination rates among children worldwide. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are likely to escalate after Thanksgiving holiday gatherings. And a writer for the liberal magazine The Nation published an article on Thanksgiving Day titled, “We’re Thankful for Our Abortions.”
But it will not always be like this.
“The marriage supper of the Lamb”
Bob Vogelbaugh’s wonderful Thanksgiving tradition foreshadows the thanksgiving dinner of all dinners. One day, those who know Christ as their Lord will hear these words: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
This amazing invitation is best understood in its cultural context.
In Jesus’ day, what we would call an engagement began when a marriage contract was signed by the parents of the bride and the bridegroom. This was the period Joseph and Mary were in when she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18; Luke 2:5).
A year later, the bridegroom, accompanied by his male friends, went to the house of the bride at midnight, forming a torchlight parade through the streets. The bride and her maidens would join the parade, arriving at the bridegroom’s home. This is the background for Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1–13).
The third phase was the marriage supper itself, which could go on for days, as we see with the wedding in Cana (John 2:1–2).
In Revelation 19, the Lamb (Jesus) and his bride (the Church) are in this third phase. The first occurs when we place our faith in Christ as our Lord. The second symbolizes the return of our Lord to take us to his home in paradise (John 14:1–4). The third symbolizes our eternal celebration and worship in heaven, where we are gathered with “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).
John described our eternal destination this way: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Revelation 21:3–4).
“Standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb”
Like the pastor who began every Sunday service with gratitude, you and I can begin every day by giving thanks for all Jesus has done for us, all he is doing for us, and all he will do for us. And when we remember our future destiny, we are emboldened to trust our Lord in the midst of present challenges.
Consider this moving example.
St. Paul Le-Bao Tinh was born in 1793 in Vietnam. He became a Christian, then an ascetic monk, then a missionary. When persecution against Christians broke out in 1841, he was arrested and spent the next seven years in prison in Hanoi. While incarcerated, he wrote to a seminary student:
“The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind—shackles, iron chains, manacles—are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief.” Then he added: “But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always.”
He asked his reader, “Come to my aid with your prayers, that I may have the strength to fight according to the law and indeed to fight the good fight and to fight until the end and so finish the race.”
He concluded: “We may not see each other again in this life, but we will have the happiness of seeing each other again in the world to come, when, standing at the throne of the spotless Lamb, we will together join in singing his praises and exult forever in the joy of our triumph. Amen.”
Whatever you are facing today, remember: It will not always be like this. One day we will “exult forever in the joy of our triumph” with our Lord.
Why is this promise relevant to your soul today?