On October 3, 1863, while our nation was mired in a bloody civil war, President Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the last Thursday in November as a national day of thanks.
Pause for a moment, and ruminate on that: our president called for a national day of thanks in the midst of pain and suffering like our nation has never known in any war against foreign aggression.
Do the math: World War I claimed 116,516 lives; in WWII we lost 405,399. The Civil War: 625,000 dead (excluding wounded or missing). Total number of dead for 2 World Wars 521,915. That means 103,085 (19.75%) more people died in a war between brothers than in the combined wars where we were fighting foreign enemies (source: US Army Military History Institute).
Wouldn’t it make more sense for Lincoln to wait awhile to call for national thanksgiving? Like, until the war was over, and peace had regained a foothold, and families had begun to heal? There would be a lot to be thankful for then. Now, I could see a proclamation calling for prayer.
Oh, come to think of it…
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.
All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace. – Proclamation issued March 3, 1863.
Another Thursday, 7 months prior to the Thanksgiving proclamation. Different message. Same humble spirit.
Let’s make this Thanksgiving different. In the grip of our most un-civil war, and for “the restoration of our divided and suffering country,” rather than the thin gravy of “things for which to be thankful” as a last-minute, think-on-your-feet offering at our annual family feast, I invite you to join together in a thoughtful day of prayer and giving thanks.
Lincoln’s model is a healthy one: confession for our national sins first (don’t get stuck in the undergrowth here; it will take you too long to hack your way through the thorny sins of our nation).
Then, offer a prayer of sincere thanks – for the Lord’s mercy in sparing (delaying?) us the judgement we are due, and for His grace in providing the many, many blessings of His providence – including, but not limited to the Butterball and the candied yams.
Of course, that may translate into more praying and less eating. Hmm. Could be just what the Great Physician ordered.
Happy day of prayerful Thanksgiving!