“O eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” —The Collect for Independence Day, July 4, Book of Common Prayer, 263
I had forgotten there is a special prayer for Independence Day, independence from Great Britain who gave us our Prayer Book and our liturgy, essentially an English translation of the Roman Mass in the sixteenth century, with added prayers or “Collects”, those prayers said at the start of the liturgy to collect us together to begin the sacred rites. I had forgotten, and was pleasingly reminded this morning in our Berkeley chapel where we thanked God for all His blessings in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (eucharist means thanksgiving). We prayed and we praised in song. We looked to the Lamb of God for our righteousness and our peace. We gave thanks that we had the freedom to worship again together.
Puritan pilgrims came to these shores to escape religious persecution in England. They were followed eventually by Anglicans who brought their Book of Common Prayer with them. It was only natural that when, a century later, they declared their independence from the mother country that they enshrined religious liberty in their declaration as well as their constitution. Religious liberty lay at the heart of who they were and are.
Freedom to practice our religion was the founding principal of our nation. This liberty became a part of the greater freedom, the freedom to speak and write, and the freedom to assemble peaceably.
This remarkable guarantee had never occurred before in the course of human events. It was an attempt by a fallen humanity to correct the injustices, the tyrannies, of those in power over their subjects. Democracy in America would be different. These colonies, united into a federation of states, would enshrine these rights, with the help of God.
And so it is stated in this prayer Collect, that God helped us do this. It was God’s mighty power that won these liberties of old, these self-evident truths.
The Declaration of Independence holds true today. We are created equal before God, with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. The Founders were right, and they were bold.
They realized, of course, that this could only succeed if a higher authority demanded righteousness, if the Judeo-Christian ethos controlled the fallenness in all of us, so that we shared common ideals, that we at least tried to care for one another. This ethos has been called “natural law” or “nature’s God”, appealing to a basic inherent code of conduct.
And yet today, we see the erosion of this ethos. We wonder if we are seeing the last of our freedoms, that we will be governed not by the people’s consent through fair elections, but by powerful institutions partnering in their power. We the people wonder if we the people no longer count, if our little vote no longer is counted. We wonder why criminals roam free to plunder our cities. We wonder why our borders are no more. We wonder why children are indoctrinated in schools to hate our country. We wonder why our history is vanishing before our eyes. We wonder why we cannot speak out against these things without retribution. We wonder why we must self-censure to protect our families. We wonder why we are so fearful.
We wonder why, and we weep for America.
And yet, some are waking to the woke. The blind can see. Prophets speak without fear. Mothers shame school boards. Courage blows across our land.
And so we pray, pray for America, waiting on God’s power once again. For the Collect is correct: It is only with His mighty power that we will be granted the grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace. For we must be within the heart of righteousness. We must call for peace among our people. We must seek to end these divisions, so that we can be once again united in love and in a shared human dignity. We must protect the innocent and the vulnerable. We must give life to the unborn and honor to our elders.
The world, teeming to be free, dreams of embarking upon our shores. These immigrants seek the America that is united, that protects freedom from tyranny, that values free speech. We welcome them in the righteousness of law and the peace of love.