In one of the segments of the 1948 Disney anthology film Melody Time, the character of Johnny Appleseed sings a song as he gathers the fruit from the apple trees he has planted. The first couple of verses go like this:
The Lord is good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun, the rain, and an apple seed.
Yes, he’s been good to me.
I owe the Lord so much
For everything I see.
I’m certain if it weren’t for him
There’d be no apples on this limb.
He’s been good to me.
We had friends who used to sing the first verse of this song as their grace before meals. The words with which they ended the prayer, a triumphant “Johnny Appleseed!” in place of “Amen,” tended to make it feel like a bit of a joke, but Johnny’s own words point to something quite important. The things we need to live each day and even the food we eat are gifts from God’s providing hand.
To give thanks before our meals may seem like simply a routine, a matter of course. And for many people that might be what it is. But its practice among Christians goes back all the way to Jesus. The famous scene when Jesus fed the five thousand hungry people on the green grass in Mark 6 and its parallels shows us Jesus offering thanks: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people” (Mark 6:41). Those words in turn might remind us of the Last Supper, in which Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave thanks before giving it to his friends.
This spirit of thanksgiving is everywhere on display in the New Testament. In the last chapters of the book of Acts we read about the journey by sea that the apostle Paul took when he was being transported from Palestine to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. On the way, the boat ran into a storm and they were about to be shipwrecked. But the passengers were also hungry, so we find that just before they threw the extra bags of grain into the ocean along with other cast-offs, the whole group ate. And even on the verge of disaster, Paul sees the food as a gift to be thankful for: “…he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves” (Acts 27:35-36).
“They were all encouraged.” I wonder if the encouragement the seafarers felt came from the fact that even though they were on the edge of disaster they remembered in this moment of prayer that there were gifts that could be received as tokens of God’s mercy and care. Sometimes life can feel like a churning sea, but if we look for them there are usually signs of God’s provision for which we can give thanks. These acts of thanksgiving may be more significant than they look. They may in fact be acts of resistance against hopelessness, our way of attending to God’s presence in the small things and our reminder that he is present in the bigger things too.