Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and  or 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.
— Lesser Feasts and Fasts, p. 285

From its earliest days, the church has celebrated special days in the life of God’s people along with the remembrance and celebration of the lives of the saints and martyrs. The Episcopal Church has its own calendar of these major and lesser feast and fast days. Among these, one finds the obvious major feast days such as Christmas and Easter, and some others that may come to mind in a moment’s thought such as the Feast of the Epiphany, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, the Ascension of our Lord, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Further thought, and some good guessing, may identify so-called “lesser” feast days such as those of each Gospel evangelist, feast days of the disciples, and feast days of important early church leaders.

Over the years, the calendar has grown to include a diversity of people in whom we recognize a special incarnation of God’s grace and through whom the Kingdom of God has been furthered. This reflects the ongoing and lived experience of people who continue to journey with a living God. It reflects God’s people proclaiming that God is still active in the world and claiming new stakes for God’s Kingdom. So, along with the Christmas and Easter events, along with the lives Saints Peter and Paul, those of Saints Augustine and Aquinas and the remainder of the “so great a cloud of witnesses,” we also find Independence Day. It may seem odd that a secular, political holiday would be found among other holy days. As Saint Tertullian (b. 155AD) questioned, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” What does philosophy have to do with the church, the political with the religious, a state holiday with a calendar of church holy days? The answer comes from our lived experience, our claiming, and our proclaiming. As Saint Paul claimed and proclaimed in Athens that the altar to an unknown god belonged to the one true God (Acts 17:16-34), and as Saint Patrick and the Celtic monks, while affirming the Irish search for God, claimed and proclaimed that the high stones, sacred groves, wells, and fairy pools of the Irish belonged to the one true God, the church throughout history has baptized and assimilated the world to itself. Likewise, the Episcopal church has claimed Independence Day as a day belonging to the one true God.

Like the altar in Athens and the land of the Celts, we baptize our world and the events that transpire within it, claiming those for God and proclaiming through them our lived experience of the living God. For Episcopalians, Independence Day is a holy day where we proclaim the presence of God’s grace in history and we remember the call to God’s people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God that all people may live in righteousness and peace. Happy Independence Day, Fr. Bill