Today, May 7, is set aside as the National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked “to turn to God in prayer and meditation”. The president is required by law to sign a proclamation each year, encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.
The modern law formalizing the annual observance of a National Day of Prayer was enacted in 1952, although earlier days of fasting and prayer had been established by the Second Continental Congress from 1775 until 1783, and by President John Adams in 1798 and 1799. Thomas Jefferson established a day of prayer and thanksgiving, but this occurred while he served as governor of Virginia.
The National Day of Prayer shares common roots with the celebration of Thanksgiving; both were national proclamations establishing a day of prayer. In the New England Colonies under British rule, traditional observances in late fall called for prayer and thanksgiving, while observances in the spring or summer called for prayer and fasting. The fall observance was established by President Abraham Lincoln as the official Thanksgiving holiday in 1863. The spring observance was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1952 as the National Day of Prayer.
In the community of faith, every day needs to be for us a day of prayer. We don’t require an act of congress to call us to prayer. As the children of God, we celebrate the opportunity to carry our joys and sorrows, celebrations, and disappointments to the great “I Am”.
Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing”. The New Living Translation says simply, “never stop praying.” St. Augustine declared, “True whole prayer is nothing but love.”
I want to suggest to all of us that in this difficult time of sheltering in place, health concerns, and economic woes that this is a moment when we need to commit ourselves to never stop praying. In our prayer we affirm our love for God and for our sisters and brothers. When we intercede for our neighbors, we see them as God sees them. In this moment of stress tempers flare and angry words are too easily spoken. True whole prayer reminds us that God loves each of us equally and requires that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
In addition to prayer, I would like to suggest that we practice the spiritual discipline of fasting. In fasting we turn our attention away from our physical wants and desires and spend time in spiritual contemplation. I would suggest that we choose a meal or a special treat and refrain from that meal or treat until the time we are able to be together as the Christian community once again. The time spent in eating is set aside to be a time of reflection and prayer. Remember the instructions of Jesus. We do not fast to be seen by other people. Don’t tell anyone what you are sacrificing. This is between you and God. We fast and pray for our nation and the world. We fast and pray for those stricken with Covid-19, we pray and fast for the physicians, nurses, and first responders, who risk their own health to care for those who are ill. We pray and fast for those who are suffering severe economic crises because they are unable to work and care for their families. We pray for this community of faith that we will be a community of loving, faithful servants.
True whole prayer is nothing but love. Love God and love your neighbors. Practice prayer and fasting. Trust God. Live in faith.
The letter to the Ephesians ends with this admonition: Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
‘May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’