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Christian Union

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

In a November 2014 op-ed titled “On Thanksgiving Day, Remember Fast Day,” Dean Grodzins, visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Historical Society and a research associate at Harvard Business School, traced the little-known history of Fast Day in the American historical memory. Grodzins writes:

“Around 1740 . . . the New England colonies (except for Rhode Island, which always went its own way) began observing regular annual fasts and thanksgivings, corresponding to the local agricultural year. Fast Day was held typically in April; farmers were in effect asking for God’s forgiveness and blessing before they planted. Thanksgiving was held in November, to show God gratitude for the harvest. Only at this time did Thanksgiving come to be associated with a feast.”

Throughout the piece, Grodzins articulates the complex historical and theological associations among Fast Day, burgeoning American secularism, and the relationship between church and state. Grodzins then concludes, “on Thanksgiving, as we express gratitude for our blessings, we would do well to remember a spiritual truth that those old New Englanders knew: gratitude and repentance are paired, and the deepest gratitude often follows repentance.”

I’ve found myself reflecting on how such a remnant and largely forgotten holiday in the American consciousness might impart lasting significance, especially now with last year’s Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas cookies behind us. Toward this end, I believe an encouragement to couple repentance and gratitude serves well to guide our thoughts and prayers.

As we continue together in a corporate season of prayer and fasting, I’d encourage you to spend some time today reflecting on how both of these attitudes — repentance and gratitude — are at work in your life. More specifically, consider how these two postures might influence your prayers as well as your relationships with others. Just because the holidays are behind us doesn’t mean we’re relegated to forget the significance of seasons past.
Jared Wortman
Ministry Fellow at Harvard Law School
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