It was 97 years ago that the term first found its way into English. For when its engines failed while traveling between England and France, a Royal Airforce “flying boat” in 1923 frantically radioed out the call to operators on both sides of the channel using the French words for “help me,” “m’aidez.” And in turn, English speaking radio operators heard it phonetically as simply “May Day.”
It didn’t take long, however, for the new phrase to spread, reaching as far away as Singapore in a matter of months. For although the previous codeword, “S.O.S.,” with its pattern of dots and dashes (…—…) was simple to recognize and remember, to the listening ear “S” was too easy to mistake for “F” and planes needed something else. “May Day” worked and accordingly, in 1927 the United States formally adopted the phrase as an official radiotelegraph distress signal.
In the current pandemic, however, we might well think of a similar phrase, particularly on this National Day of Prayer, first proclaimed by President Harry Truman in 1952. For confronted with the uncertainty of a disease we cannot cure, we might suggest that this is indeed a “Pray Day.”
Some have said in recent months, of course, that “thoughts and prayers” are an inadequate way to respond when life goes wrong and innocents are hurt. But in truth, people of faith have always turned to prayer when facing trials and uncertainty. And even while we still cannot gather together in our sanctuary, we can yet meet at the foot of the cross to boldly approach the throne of grace. For as this year’s proclamation reminds us, “no problem is too big for God to handle.”
Before the day is over, thus, take a moment to join in a prayer such as this one:
“O Lord, our God: You are greater than any pandemic and no disease can separate us from You. For even when the darkness comes, Your light still shines…even when the shadows fall across our way, You still walk with us…and even when we don’t know what the future holds, we know that You hold the future.
So may all those who have been affected by this virus find their healing and strength in You. May this, Your world, find its hope in You, our Creator. And may each of us be Your agents this day to counter the cries of fear and proclaim instead the power of Your love, which casts out all fear.
Come, Lord, for we, Your children, need You.
Come into this world that all may know You are God.
Heal the hurt. Flatten the curve. Turn the tide. Bring us together.
And grant us Your peace.
In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.”