“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord,in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life,whose service is perfect freedom…” The Order for Daily Morning Prayer, Collect for Peace, 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer
I often think of this remarkable phrase, whose service is perfect freedom.
While it is customary in American culture to celebrate before the holi-day and rarely, if ever, afterwards, I enjoy octaves, the traditional eight days of celebration after the feast. With this excuse I continue to celebrate Saint Peter (June 29) and Independence Day (July 4), neighbors in our American calendar.
I think of Peter the Apostle as a robust saint, full of passion and life, who pulled himself up when he fell, soon to kneel at his Lord’s feet. He, like Mary Magdalene, is one of us. He is fully human in this sense, full of self, pulled by sin. Scriptures speak of his threefold denial of Christ when fear vanquished love. “Do you love me?” Christ asked him three times, and three times Peter insisted he loved him. “Feed my sheep,” Christ commanded. And Peter did, even to the point of failure again as he tried to escape the persecutions in Rome, fleeing the city on the Appian Way. Christ meets him there, and once again brings him back to himself. “Quo vadis?” (”Where do you go?”) Peter turns around and faces his death, and his new life.
Peter was free to choose, and just so, we enjoy that freedom as creatures and as citizens in the West. He was free to listen and to decide. And it is this freedom we celebrate on July 4th, our American Independence Day. In the Western democracies freedom of belief is still protected for the most part, but we must not take such a revolutionary idea for granted. Much of the world does not honor religious freedom, but seeks to impose a set of beliefs on all.
So we desire and celebrate freedom, but not the freedom to take freedom away, not the freedom to take life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When I enter a church, my first prayer is thanksgiving for the people, the clergy, and the freedom to worship, the last a continual reminder of this great gift.
This is perfect freedom. It is a freedom found in the Judaic-Christian God, the God who demands perfection but offers loving mercy. He is a Father God who guides, protects, and loves us, leading us into our full humanity. He is a God whose service is, indeed, perfect freedom.