As I pad down the hallway of my parents’ home, a brilliant harvest moon illumines the kitchen. It is three AM on the eve of Thanksgiving, and I stand motionless, soaking in the glory of the night sky, soaking in the glory of silence. My heart has been restless, too full of remembrances to find sleep.
Five kernels of corn. The image has floated through my head for an hour. It’s a familiar sight, one which we, as a family, place before us each Thanksgiving Day. The remembrance began when our children were tiny, when as a young family we were purposeful to cultivate traditions which would add depth to our annual celebrations. At some point in those early years of marriage, we read the account of the Pilgrims’ first two winters in Plymouth, and our hearts were pierced. Arriving in the New World after the first snows had already blanketed the New England ground, they had lost over half of their numbers to sickness that first winter. The tenacious survivors had persevered, struggling to till and plant so that they might harvest a crop full enough to carry them through the next freezing season. And yet, despite all of their efforts, they had been reduced that second winter to starvation rations. Five kernels of corn per person1) Manuel & Marshall, The Light And The Glory.
Over the many years I have mulled over different aspects of the story, focusing on the feelings of the tiny band. I have imagined what it would have been like to savor each kernel, holding it in my mouth as long as possible. I have thought of the desperation, the hopelessness of losing almost everyone I might have loved. I have pondered the heartbreak of being forced from my native homeland because of my convictions, isolated from all society in a remote, harshly beautiful wilderness.
But this night, the only image which remains in my heart is that of five tiny, golden bits lying on a plate. And all at once, my mind floods with Joshua chapter four.
“…When your children ask their fathers in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For The Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as The Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of The Lord is mighty, that you may fear The Lord your God forever (v. 21-24).'”
My heart fills with gratitude. God’s redemption story is so pervasive. It encompasses the entirety of human history. His passion is to redeem, to make beautiful things out of dust. He takes the pain of loss, the excruciating difficulty of suffering, and transforms it into something so captivating that our hearts ache with the glory of it all. His plan is so far-reaching, our finite understanding cannot begin to grasp its magnitude. And pulsing through each story, each record of God’s dealings with man, is the living thread of redemption.
As modern Americans, we have all but abandoned the Pilgrim story. It’s too hard to grasp. We don’t relate. The sacrifice, pain, and difficulty have little meaning in our frenetic lives, lives surrounded by luxury and plenty. And yet, it is their story which should call our hearts to remembrance. For in their struggle to serve their God, to follow Him wholeheartedly, we are left with memorial stones. Five golden kernels which speak of redemption.
In His infinite wisdom, the Father took the seeds of hardship and loss and grew them into something so breathtakingly beautiful that since that time, the world has stood in awe. His plan was not to destroy a people, leaving them battered and hopeless, but to grow from their sacrifice of obedience a nation on the earth which would be a light and refuge to millions of souls yet to come. Hope, freedom, redemption, all sprung from five kernels of corn.
I recall that Jesus taught those who had ears to hear, “But I say to you that unless a grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit (Jn. 12:24).” With eyes tightly closed, I picture our upcoming celebration. On each plate, the grains lay waiting, calling to us to remember. As we scoop them into our hands, we remind our children, “Have ears to hear. Listen. Remember what The Lord your God has done. He is a God of redemption, a God who plans good for His children. He has done this ‘…so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of The Lord is mighty, that you may fear The Lord your God forever.'”