Monday, July 13, 2009
Let Freedom Ring
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” –St. Paul to the Galatians
It is the 4th of July in the nation’s capital. The Mall is lined with tourists eager to celebrate this great country, vendors looking to make a buck off the national holiday as they wave American flag bandannas and umbrellas they wish to sell, and the average Washingtonians (who are almost indistinguishable from the tourists today, other than they aren’t running around looking at the city with wide eyes). Everyone gathers around the monuments and other politically important edifices. All of them are here to celebrate one thing: freedom.
As the celebration commences, I sit on the Capitol lawn watching artists such as Aretha Franklin (who opens the evening with a soulful adaptation of the Star Spangled Banner), Barry Manilow (who is still rocking the mullet), and many others. Then come the fireworks and cannon shots that echo through the streets and illuminate the night sky behind the Washington monument. All of the city is on the same page tonight: celebrating freedom.
On Sunday, things go back to the normal way of life. But tonight, the whole town acknowledges the fact that they have freedom and jumps through all sorts of hoops to celebrate it. But are they really free at all?
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he stated that despite the rules and regulations of the written code; despite the laws of circumcision, dietary restrictions, and Sabbath keeping, Christ had come to bring real freedom. Now in the Roman world, freedom was a rare thing-often paid for at a high price by a slave, for the majority of the rule of the Empire restricted to the area near and around Rome, only being given to the rest of the rich male property owners in the area where the Galatians lived much later in history (around 212 CE, a century after Paul). But Paul insists here that freedom has been given through Jesus Christ, not from the Jewish law or through the hands of the Roman emperor. It is Christ alone that gives freedom. Surely Americans, with their rich history of ‘fighting for freedom,’ realize the cost of being truly free. Freedom is all but cheap, now as it was then, and yet Paul has the audacity to say that true freedom is available to all simply by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is this freedom alone that sets one free.
As I sit and watch the masses celebrate freedom, I wonder if they are even free at all. What is keeping them slaves? Is it drugs and alcohol, cheap substitutes for the joy given in Christ Jesus? Or is it pride and materialism, the American dream that sets the self as the sole focus of living, with desires to be satisfied immediately? Or perhaps it is slavery to fear, whether it is fear of the unsure future or fear of the past being uncovered, fear of not being good enough or simply fear of death itself. If only these people were celebrating the freedom we have in Christ, the gift of Christ, not the gift of the American political machine, would they have a reason to celebrate. No Declaration, Constitution, or Bill of Rights will ever bring full freedom-for these documents never conquered sin and death, were never raised from the dead. No, Christ alone gives freedom because through the cross and the empty tomb he has been demonstrated by the power of God to be the bearer of freedom.
As the masses disperse, filing out of the Mall and onto buses and subways to head home, perhaps to sleep off there full bellies or to begin a smaller fireworks display of their own in their backyards, I pray that America would finally let freedom ring. Let Christ ring out in this city and bring true freedom to a Capitol in invisible chains. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.” Freedom is waiting.
-Alex Thompson, CSM DC Summer 2009 City Host