Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies,
let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on our way;
Thou who hast by thy might led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee;
lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.
These are the words of a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1899. They were first performed at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12, 1900 when 500 school children in Jacksonville, Florida recited them. They were soon set to music by James’ brother, John Rosamond Johnson and have been sung in many of our congregations ever since. James served as the principal of the segregated Stanton School when he wrote this poem. He was expressing both the reality of the injustices of his day as well as hope for a future that his faith promised.
As we prepare to gather with family, friends and perhaps even with strangers on this Thanksgiving Day, our hearts are full of both the realities of an unjust and sinful society as well as hopefulness that God’s reign of justice and love will break into our world. In gratitude we can give thanks for the people in our lives who show us a glimpse of that hoped for reality while at the same time confessing the ways we contribute to the current sinfulness. As Lutherans, we know how to live with the complexities of “both/and” situations and we know how to roll up our sleeves to join in the work God calls us to do to help bring about justice and peace.
I pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day in which you give thanks for the many ways God in Christ is blessing you to be an instrument of truth and hope for the sake of the world.