Independence Day is a big deal for me. I love watching amazing fireworks displays. It’s wonderful to have a day off from work. Of course, there will be parades and political speeches all across the land today. As a secular holiday, Independence Day mostly focuses on triumph and glory and power. But the Christian view of this day is a bit different.
As a Christian, I know that this day affords me an opportunity to be grateful for the political freedoms I enjoy. This day also calls me to rekindle my work for a nation that reflects the hopes of our founders.
As an Episcopal priest, Independence Day is a big deal for me for a slightly different reason. In the Episcopal Church, this day is a major feast, right up there with saints’ days and big holidays like Christmas and Easter. We are meant to have church services on the Fourth of July.
The "Book of Common Prayer" that we Episcopalians use has a special prayer set aside for this day.
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the Earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Do you see the difference from bombastic celebrations of power and might? Christians are rightly concerned about those on the edges. So when we think about our nation, we who follow Jesus must ask ourselves: How is our nation doing at justice? How can we use our liberty to speak up for the voiceless? How can we work for a peaceful world?
I am proud to be a citizen of the United States, and I am profoundly grateful for the freedoms I enjoy. On national days like this one, I give thanks for those who have fought for freedom and especially for those who gave their lives for our nation. This country is great, and that greatness is the fruit of sacrifice for generation after generation.
But as much as I give thanks for this nation, as a Christian, I know that Jesus always has first claim on me. Jesus, who cared for the vulnerable and the poor. Jesus, who always spoke the truth in love. Jesus, who freed us from sin but taught that we had an obligation to care for others. Jesus, who willingly gave his life for me and for the whole world. Jesus, perfect love.
So on Independence Day, when I pray, I am praying for a nation where violence is no longer heard in our land (Isaiah 60). I am praying for a land that offers good news to the poor and which offers freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4). I am praying for a land that welcomes strangers and cares for prisoners (Matthew 25). I am praying for a land in which we use our freedoms first and foremost to care for others (Galatians 5).
Enjoy the fireworks! Thank veterans! Celebrate freedom! But for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, we must make sure we never stop praying and working for a better America, a nation of peace with justice, a nation where all people can flourish as the people God has made them to be.
Let us all pray for a zeal for justice. And let us pray that God leads us to use our freedoms for the good of the whole world and all its people.