In the Episcopal Church, Independence Day is actually a major feast of the church. That means it has its own collect (opening prayer), with readings and a Eucharistic preface assigned to it. Interestingly enough, our prayer book assigns the preface for Trinity Sunday to be used at worship on Independence Day.
Both Father Laycock and I remarked that this is an interesting choice — to call us to the Holy Trinity as a way of focusing worship on Independence Day.
Each year, as the Fourth of July draws closer, I am reminded of those conversations about the relationship between the Holy Trinity and Independence Day. After these years of reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Holy Trinity and the Fourth of July actually are an important connection to make.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity teaches us that God exists in relationship, three persons in one being, all three eternally existing in a dance of divine love. The Father, the fount of all things from whom the Son is eternally begotten, as God never ceases sharing of Godself. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the divine life, always at work in the world bringing about the action and movements of God. These three persons give eternally of themselves to each other and, at the same time, they are united in being, a blessed One-in-Three.
All that to say: even God, the ground of all existence, does not exist in solitude. God exists in community.
And you and I, created in God’s image, are also not intended to exist on our own. We are intended to exist in community and relationship. We find our true selves as we move from solitude to engagement. Many lovers have discovered a new sense of their own identity in relationship with their beloved. We discover ourselves in relationships with family, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers and, of course, in relationships with people in our faith community.
The individualism that surrounds us might lead us to believe that our true self and our true freedom are found on our own — but this is an illusion. True freedom, true self, is found in the complex relationships that make up our lives, by living into those relationships through a self-giving love that flows from the very heart of the Divine Life.
So, perhaps the reason why the Church draws our attention to the Holy Trinity on Independence Day is to call our attention to the importance of community. Thus, on this approaching holiday, we consider all the citizens of our nation, those close to us and those who are strangers. We are reminded that God’s image is in all of them — those who enjoy this day as one of family and love; and those who suffer through this day, hot, hungry, or homeless. We are reminded that we are connected to all of these people, and that this connection is essential to our being.
The freedom we may experience as individuals is not universal. There are people throughout our nation — and right here in the Tri-Cities — who long for freedom. Our freedom in the United States is not universal. There are many countries where people long for freedom we take for granted. Our very existence is inextricably bound up with these others — whether close or far away — who long for freedom. They are a part of us.
Thus, we should not merely celebrate our freedom. We should recommit ourselves to one another. We should recommit ourselves to the work that needs to be done so that true freedom can be found in all places, so that true freedom can be found by all people.
“Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for 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.” — Collect for Independence Day, BP 242
The Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. His reflections on life and ministry can be found on his blog: carewiththecure.blogspot.com.