Many US churches are reflecting on the the relationship of church and state and celebrating freedom of worship on this weekend where Independence Day falls on Sunday. Liturgies of reflection on freedom and how far it extends or has not extended to citizens and non-citizens alike to a rodeo actually held in a church! Also check our Daily Episcopalian essay here. What will you and/or your church be doing?
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, who serves St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chatham, NJ, offers a liturgy that reflects the journey to independence and the evolution of those freedoms towards “liberty and justice for all.” It includes readings from a variety of sources, among others, the Constitution, a letter of Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams, Martin Luther King’s letter from the Birmingham Jail, Chief Seattle’s response to the US government, and a reading from Matthew 11.
The Honorable Byron Rushing, Massachusetts State Representative and long time Deputy to General Convention offers ideas for Sunday, the 4th:
Let me take this opportunity to remind Episcopalians in the United States that many of us do not consider the words–“the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us”–in the Independence Day collect (BCP, p.242 or p.190) to be accurate. Look around your congregations and reflect if all the ancestors of the “us” got their liberty then.
A better and approved BCP collect for the 4th is “For the Nation” (p.258 or 207):
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.
The Canadians’ Canada Day collect (July 1) also works for us in the USA and all the other countries in which The Episcopal Church is:
whose wisdom and whose love are over all,
accept the prayers we offer for our nation.
Give integrity to its citizens and wisdom to those in authority,
that harmony and justice may be secured
in obedience to your will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Since the 4th falls on Sunday this year, the strict BCP constructionists can add these collects to the Prayers of the People; or to the Thanksgivings for National Life (p.838)[and some others}… the Trinity Preface appointed for the 4th; I think–if you’re ready to risk it–the Preface for Baptism (…made us citizens of your kingdom…) or for Advent (…we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing) are a lot better.
Ed Moore, writing at Duke Divinity Call and Response Blog, asks “What to do about the 4th?”
The new pastor who finds the bread and wine covered by the flag on July 4th stands in a place of precarious privilege. She has been sent among people who are struggling to make a choice. Although it may be tempting to pronounce judgment upon the congregation’s traditions, the better pastoral choice is to recall the power of sacred sign. Beneath that fragile symbol of temporal power are the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. When the flag is set aside, the Feast of the Resurrection is revealed. If the communion of saints is powerfully preached, that eschatological sign itself will stand in judgment upon the wilderness, and those receiving bread and cup from their new pastor’s hand may well find themselves headed toward the New Jerusalem once more.
Happy Canada Day to our sisters and brothers to the north (July 1).
The Rev. Lane Denson, of Nashville, TN, in his almost daily reflections, Out of Nowhere, writes:
Independence Day 2010
Any flag is a symbol, and symbols communicate.
When a flag flies at full staff the announcement is peace, victory, rule or whatever adjective you might speak in the situation at that time.
When a flag flies upside down, the message is distress.
When a flag flies at half mast, the message is sorrow or death
When a flag is placed on the right hand side of a seat of responsibility, as at the President’s desk in the oval office, the message is allegiance.
When a flag is torn, stepped on or burned, the message is
rejection or rebellion, as at the Boston Tea Party.
Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures record two problems as always having plagued the People of God. (1) Syncretism, becoming conformed to the cultural ways instead of bringing the culture into the ways of God. (2) Nationalism, allowing the rule of God to be replaced by the rule of the State or King.
The first Commandment says no other God, and that includes kings, states, and constitutions. The prophetic movement came to the fore in earnest when David decided he was above the law of God. Nathan spoke with clarity. Henry II tried to make Thomas à Becket bow to the will of the throne, and blood was shed in Canterbury Cathedral. And on, and on, over and over, the conflict between Church and State.
In the early 1900s a subtle thing occurred in this country. The Stars and Stripes were placed on the right hand side of the altar in the churches. The message, perhaps unintended, was that the Church owes allegiance to the State. To place the Nation’s flag in such a position is like placing the Church’s flag to the right of the President’s desk in the Oval Office. Such a message proclaimed in the church is contrary to the covenants. It is also an act of idolatry.
Yet, flags do have a place in the Church — the Alms Bason. On National Days, such as the 4th of July, to place a properly folded National Flag in the Alms Bason is to offer to God what we have done as his stewards of the land and society of a country. The People of God are inhabitants of every nation on this earth, but we owe primary obedience to none of them.
Let us consider well what our flags communicate. Maybe the time has come to remove all National Flags from the Nave. Let them be placed in the Alms Bason on National Days.
At Winston Churchill’s funeral, the casket was placed before the High Altar with five pillows on the altar step. Each pillow bore a symbol of his life in the service of God. One pillow bore the Union Jack.
What better example might we have?
Byron Rushing also reports that he and others read from the Frederick Douglass speech Thursday across from the State House in Boston at the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial:
Frederick Douglass delivered “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro” speech at Rochester, New York, July 5, *1852*. A better link to the full speech and to two well chosen abridgments (One at 4,526 words = approximately 30 minutes read aloud; another at 7,500 words = approximately 45 minutes) is here.
The speech ends with these words–
“The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from “the Declaration of Independence,” the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated.-Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved.
The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”
In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:
God speed the year of jubilee The wide world o’er! When from their galling chains set free, Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee, And wear the yoke of tyranny Like brutes no more. That year will come, and freedom’s reign. To man his plundered rights again Restore. God speed the day when human blood Shall cease to flow! In every clime be understood, The claims of human brotherhood, And each return for evil, good, Not blow for blow; That day will come all feuds to end, And change into a faithful friend Each foe.