U.S. Independence Day and the Church

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-21)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matthew 5:43-46a)


According to "Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints", proper Psalms, lessons, and prayers were first appointed for the national observance of Independence Day in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786.  But they were deleted by the General Convention of 1789, primarily because Bishop William White felt that the required observance would be inappropriate, since the majority of the Church’s clergy had been loyal to the British crown. (We see evidence of early tension between Church and State!) It was not until the Prayer Book of 1928 that the liturgical observance of Independence Day returned. ("Holy Women, Holy Men", p. 452)

What I find intriguing is the scriptures that have been selected as part of the propers for Independence Day.  The Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy is above, and focuses on worshiping God alone and loving the stranger - “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” I have also quoted most of the Matthew reading (Matthew 5:43-48) from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which focuses on loving and praying for our enemies. (The other scriptures for the day are Psalm 145 and Hebrews 11:8-16.)  There is an acknowledgment in these passages of God’s love for us, God leading us into freedom, God caring for the orphan, widow, and stranger, and our calling to love in the same way that God loves us. It is God “who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.” (Deuteronomy10:21)

In other words, in the Church on Independence Day we still pause to give all the credit and praise to God - for our freedom, for loving us, and for God giving us the example of loving all people.

This is one of the reasons that I love being part of a church community. Where else are you likely to hear a word of Scripture and a reminder of where our true freedom comes from - on Independence Day? The Church and Holy Scripture continue to call us back to worshiping and praising God, for only God is God - “God of gods and Lord of lords.”