Are there any national holidays that are also on the church calendar? The simple answer to this is yes: Thanksgiving Day, the fourth Thursday in November; and Independence Day, July 4.
Both of these national holidays are listed in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979 as major feasts under the section Holy Days. Like all Holy Days, Thanksgiving and Independence Day, take precedence over any other feast that might occur on their assigned dates, but they do not take precedence over Principal Feasts or Sundays. What do these designations mean for us, practically?
For Thanksgiving Day, this means it will always be celebrated and should be recognized as a church feast day. Every year St. Francis schedules a celebration of the Eucharist at 11:00 AM. It is an hour given over to recognizing God as the source of our bounty, and even though Thanksgiving can be celebrated without acknowledging God, it is a gift of our tradition to mark and celebrate the day with prayers, readings of scripture, singing of hymns, and sharing of communion. After all, Eucharist essentially means thanksgiving meal.
Independence Day seems more complicated as a religious holiday, after all the Declaration of Independence was used to justify why the colonists were in armed rebellion. Why would the BCP allow for it as a day for Eucharist and reflection?
Our tradition embraces the complications of our humanity in the sacraments and in our celebrations. Each of our worship services is a mix of petition, celebration, supplication, joy, remorse, division, and reconciliation. It is not inconsistent to celebrate the promise and complications of liberty expressed in worldly terms. Sometimes the celebration will be about the joy, sometimes the service will be about the complications, and sometimes it will be about them both.
In that vein, let me offer up two prayers for our country contained in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. They express this tension of living in the knowledge of our human reality and in the hope of God’s promises [emphases mine].
Independence Day July 4 (page 242)
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
18. For our Country (page 820)
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pray these prayers in our time of celebration this weekend and in our time of uncertainty and anxiety right now.