What will you do with your holiday?
Although most of the days of our lives will be similar, i.e., ordinary and routine, some days are special and deserve to be recognized as such. There are numerous benefits to setting apart some days to celebrate or to memorialize certain seminal events in our lives. This can be personal for individuals and families—for instance, a birthday, a wedding anniversary, or to honor our parents (even when they are gone) on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Who or what dictates that we set apart these particular days differs; for example, typically God by His providence alone determines the day of our birth as well as the length of our days. On the other hand, the husband and wife, but mutual consent, chose the day of their nuptials. And it is now customary to observe a special day in May and June for Mothers and Fathers.
We also set apart days as a church and as a nation too. The very word we use for these special days—holiday—comes from the ecclesiastical realm. Holiday is easily seen to have come from “Holy + day” and, although rare today, was in bygone days mostly used to signify a day consecrated (set apart) by the church for religious observance and festivities.
When we think of Christian holidays we most often think of Christmas and Easter. Indeed at those times we remember and commemorate the birth (incarnation) and death (crucifixion) of Jesus Christ and so these annual holidays can be for our spiritual benefit. However, God Himself has set apart one day in seven to be a day of rest and worship for us, His people. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8 KJV). The church gathers for worship on the first day of the week to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus (see Mt. 28:1). God calls us together every Sunday to worship Him. All the special feasts of the Old Testament, like the rest of the ceremonial law, pointed forward to the Promised Messiah and the blessings He brings; they were all fulfilled perfectly in the Person and Work of Jesus. So then, we don’t follow the Jewish religious calendar; instead our set apart day is every Sunday. Neither do we elevate the church calendar: attending church on Christmas and Easter does not make up for being absent the rest of the year!
Let’s take a few minutes and think about our civil holidays. As Christians our ultimate allegiance belongs to God. The Bible reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” Phil. 3:20 (NIV). But we are secondarily citizens of a particular earthly and temporal nation as well. And as American citizens, we have much for which to give thanks to God. And we should take every opportunity to do so publicly. We should not give up our place in the public square, instead we should recognize the gracious Divine Providence that has blessed our land in numerous and peculiar ways over our history.
This month we celebrate Independence Day, when we have the chance to recall Jefferson’s opening declaration: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But while July 4, 1776 marked the formal beginning of the Revolutionary War, fighting had been going on long before. Paul Revere had made his famous ride on April 18, 1775 and the next day “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired at the Minutemen when a battle broke out at Lexington and Concord Massachusetts. While we enjoy family and friends, backyard barbecue and fireworks, let’s remember that the freedoms we enjoy were not free. As we give thanks for the food, please add a prayer of gratitude for the gift of freedom. And please remember that liberty comes with responsibilities not only rights. As Christians we have a freedom that others do not know—by God’s grace we’ve been set free from sin! So heed Peter’s exhortation: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Pt. 2:16 ESV).
We do confess that these freedoms have not always been equally enjoyed by all Americans, and we also acknowledge that too frequently the liberty fought for has degenerated into license. May God grant true repentance and fresh revival.
You may remember that our second, third, and fifth presidents all died on July 4th (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826 and James Monroe in 1831). But did you know that Calvin Coolidge (named for the Reformer John Calvin) was born on July 4, 1872? In Philadelphia in 1926 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, President Coolidge had this to say to the American people: “Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world . . . . They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.”1 What will they say about us in 150 years?
July is also the month that British troops were sent into The Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest of World War One. A BBC News article reports that 1 July 1916 “was the bloodiest day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties, including 19,240 deaths.”2 The end of what was known as The Great War wouldn’t occur for another 28 long months. U.S. military deaths for WWI were approximately 116,500. Finally, in 1918 Winston Churchill was able to utter that immortal phrase: “At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month silence fell across the battlefields of Europe.” Today we commemorate all veterans on November 11th, a day set apart “to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of county, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”3
But while Veterans Day honors the living, Memorial Day remembers and honors our fallen soldiers. This holiday was originally called Decoration Day as citizens decorated the graves of the men who had died in our bloodiest conflict, the Civil War. Arlington National Cemetery had its first military burial on May 13, 18644 and on May 30, 1868—the first time this day was widely observed—5,000 people helped decorate the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers there.5 Through the years this day has been set apart to remember the dead in all American wars. A dozen years ago the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. The quote from President Harry S. Truman inscribed there is worth reflecting upon: “Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
We have the solemn responsibility as citizens of this nation to give honor where honor is due. This is not in conflict with our calling as Christians; as citizens of God’s kingdom we have the higher responsibility to obey the King of kings, Jesus Christ who says through the Apostle Peter, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pt. 2:17 NIV).
So take part in the festivities and ceremonies. Enjoy with your neighbors the Fourth of July. But never forget the Sovereign Lord who has given us not only these present temporal blessings, but has given us eternal life in Jesus Christ. Share with others the true freedom we enjoy in Christ. Give thanks to God above even as you enjoy your holiday here below. And please don’t intentionally deprive yourself of the blessings that come from participating in our holy day by missing worship on Sunday.
Prayerfully yours in Christ’s service,
- William J. Bennett and John T. E. Cribb, The American Patriot’s Almanac, 244.
- William J. Bennett and John T. E. Cribb, The American Patriot’s Almanac, 189.