The Coincidence of Ascension Day and the National Day of Prayer

Yesterday marked both the Christian observance of Ascension Day and the civic observance of the National Day of Prayer.

The latter is a function of American civil religion which dates to 1952. The current practice of observing the National Day of Prayer on the first Thursday of May dates to 1988. The text of the president’s politically inclusive 2016 proclamation is here.

For Christians, the Feast of the Ascension is the infinitely more important of the two observances. Based on the chronology in the Book of Acts, it comes 40 days after Easter and commemorates Christ ascension to the right hand of God.

Christ’s ascension is central to the apostolic Christian faith, yet Ascension Day is the most underappreciated festival of the Christian year. The orthodox Christians who confess the Apostles and Nicene creeds affirm “He ascended into heaven.” There, as the creed reminds us, “he is seated at the right hand of the Father.” There he reigns as the Lord of heaven and earth and the head of his church. From there he pours out the Holy Spirit. There he sits in power until he comes again in glory to restore all creation. There the church meets him by faith in its prayer, worship and fellowship. There he joins us at the Eucharistic table as both priest and sacrifice as the veil between heaven and earth is pulled away.

Surely Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of God has something to say about how Christians understand and practice prayer.

Continue reading “The Coincidence of Ascension Day and the National Day of Prayer”

On Hating Thanksgiving

If you are going to hate Thanksgiving, you should probably do so for the right reason.

The American Thanksgiving holiday is not primarily a yearly reenactment of a meal that took place in Plymouth some 394 years ago. The Mayflower Pilgrims have come to be part of our Thanksgiving mythology, but the impulse that created our national holiday does not depend upon Plymouth. If Plymouth had never existed, the Thanksgiving holiday would still take place.

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A Thanksgiving Prayer on a Military Occasion

Almighty God, creator and sustainer of all life,

It is our duty and our privilege to give you thanks for your loving care. We thank you for the many blessings you have given us over this past year.

We thank you …
For food to eat and clothes to wear,
For shelter from the heat of summer and the cold of winter,
For the fruitfulness of farms and factories and fertile minds,
For safety in our homes and in our homeland,
For health and happiness of every sort,
And, perhaps most of all, for friends and family who love us.

As citizens of these United States, we are also grateful for the civil and religious freedom we enjoy. We thank you for the labors of all those who have who have secured these many blessings for us, especially for those who serve in our nation’s armed forces. Watch over our brothers and sisters in arms who today are far from home. Heal those who are suffering from the grief and wounds of war, and provide for all those in need.

We pray for your continued care and protection for our nation. Form in us a more perfect union. Establish your justice throughout the land. Enable us to provide for the welfare of all. Secure for us and our posterity, the blessings of liberty. Defend us from harm. Grant us peace.

The gifts we seek for ourselves, we also seek for others. Pour out your blessing on our community, our nation and our world. Amen.

* * *

This is a military chaplain’s prayer delivered at a Thanksgiving prayer luncheon. Attendance at these interfaith events is strictly voluntary in the military community.

Thanksgiving is a civic observance, not an ecclesiastical one. The language, then, draws on civil sources and themes. There is not one word, however, that I would not also pray as a Christian. 


Hale, The Mother of Thanksgiving

Rich Lowry writes about Sarah Hale, whom he calls the mother of Thanksgiving.

Besides plugging for Thanksgiving in her publication, Godey’s Lady’s Book, she wrote Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan about it before hitting pay dirt with Abraham Lincoln. . . .

Hale saw the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving as the twin festivals of the American people, “each connected with their history, and therefore of great importance in giving power and distinctness to their nationality,” as she put it in an 1852 editorial.

July Fourth celebrated national independence and liberty, while Thanksgiving acknowledged God “as the dispenser of blessings.” She argued that “these two festivals should be joyfully and universally observed throughout our whole country, and thus incorporated in our habits of thought as inseparable from American life.”

If My People

It was in 1976 – the year of the United States’ bicentennial – that I started hearing my fellow American evangelicals quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

The verse, I was told, was a promise. If American Christians would pray for their country, God would restore their nation to righteousness, keeping it from falling under God’s judgment.

I agree that Christians should always pray for the nations in which they live. The Apostle Paul urged that “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I think, however, that 2 Chronicles 7:14 calls for a different application. I paraphrase:

If the members of Christ’s church will humble themselves,
pray and turn from their wicked ways,
then God will forgive their sins, heal his church
and bring his kingdom to its full fruition.

Continue reading “If My People”