“I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just!” (Thomas Jefferson)
D. Elton Trueblood suggests in his book, “Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish,” that the first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 “is revealing in what it does not say.” The Proclamation does not ask people to gather in their church, synagogue, mosque, or temple. It does not call people to prayer as Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Orthodox, Roman Catholic or any other such group, but to pray as members of one common family. Where these prayers were spoken did not matter. The Proclamation was unapologetically “religious,” but it was not ecclesiastical.
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Lincoln, after much thought, had concluded that the Old Testament idea of God calling a NATION was a reality. He now believed God called this nation to service; the service of liberating people from bondage of all kinds. God, Lincoln felt, also called “the people of the United States” to prayer, knowing from his own experience that without prayer, it was unlikely that the nation could or would be obedient to the Divine Call to service.
Today as we gather with family and friends, let us not neglect to pray, not only with thanksgiving for our “singular deliverances and blessings,” but also with “humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.” Then, tomorrow and into this 21st century, let us take seriously God’s call to us as a nation to liberate people from all forms of bondage and to be “a light to the nations.”