Our nation will pause this year, even in the midst of the economic slowdown, to celebrate our national independence. There will be fireworks - you can buy your own at any of the dozens of tents that have popped up along the highway here in Missouri - there will be parades, picnics, speeches, and a day off for many in our nation, for us to celebrate the glorious days of yesteryear when the giants of our history fought off the embrace of empire and established a place of liberty and opportunity and hope. Not everything has remained as it was - and that is for the good as much as for the bad - but Independence Day remains a day well worth our celebrating, and even pausing to give God thanks for His blessings.
But we Christians have an independence day to celebrate of far greater worth, and one that does not fade or diminish. It is a day that we can celebrate our true freedom - freedom from sin and death and hell. That day, which marks our liberty from the greatest tyranny of history is the day we should celebrate - and not just on a single day of the year!
Actually, the problem might be to decide which day we ought to celebrate. Our true Independence Day is Good Friday. That is the day the battle was joined and the victory was won! Jesus took up the cross to set us free from sin and death and hell. When He spoke that final word, tetelestai, the world translated "It is finished", He won for us perfect liberty. St. Paul calls it the freedom of the Gospel. The Church has called it "Christian Liberty." It is the day we threw off the shackles of sin and death and slavery to the devil and became the free people of God.
We actually set a day aside to celebrate Good Friday. We call it, "Good Friday". We celebrate it, like the Fourth of July, once a year.
Of course, we could also say that our true Independence Day is the day the Jesus rose from the grave. Easter proclaims our freedom, as it is the announcement of God that the payment of Good Friday was sufficient, and more than sufficient. The resurrection of Jesus proves that the death of Jesus was enough and more to meet the justice of God for sin. It also proves that Jesus truly is the Son of God, and that He has the power to do all that He promises. His resurrection also proves to us that everything that Jesus taught is true! He proved that by taking the most difficult thing He taught (that He would rise from the grave, having been put to death) and doing it. The simpler things must also, then, be true - Jesus must have been right in what He said, if He was right in predicting is own resurrection! Because it shows that Jesus has the power to do everything He has promised, and that He is true and correct, it also teaches us that we, too, shall rise from our graves in connection with Jesus, and shall live before Him throughout eternity.
Easter is the day, you might say of the Declaration of our Independence. We celebrate Easter on, well . . . , "Easter", of course, but we also celebrate it on a special day each week, called "Sunday". Since Jesus rose from the grave on the first day of the week, the early Christians settled on the first day of the week as the day we would worship and celebrate the good news of the resurrection, and all that it won and all that it teaches us. They originally seemed to worship every day - but then they decided (more by practice going that way than a deliberate change in plans, I think) to establish just the one day, and the weekly "week-iversary" of the resurrection became the day. It was similar to the pattern of the Sabbath of Judaism, from which many early Christians came, but on a different day, and that for a number of reasons.
So, on Sundays we celebrate our Independence. Too often, many modern Christians seem to celebrate their Independence from worship, which might be seen as Independence from God Himself and from the need for His constant blessing. It also suggests a sense of Independence from the fellowship to which they belong, and which depends on them, but that is another article, eh? All of life is theological.
The day I had in mind when I began writing this, however, is a day that doesn't appear on many calendars, and which doesn't often find celebration, although it richly deserves such attention. And Luther actually says that we should at least remember it daily! Our own and personal Independence Day is the day of our Baptism.
My day was two months and five days after my birth. I don't know why they waited so long. I never thought to ask. It could have been the custom of the day. If it was, it was a less-than-ideal custom. It might have been that I had Encephalitis - sleeping sickness. My mom said that she had to wake me up for every mouthful of food when she fed me, but I think that problem came a little later in my first year of life. For those of you who have always wondered what is wrong with me, it probably started there! (A little levity.)
I know that my Grandma and Grandpa Couillard (my father's folks) stood as sponsors for me, speaking the promises of Baptism for me, which I would confirm for myself fourteen years later. I even remember the man whose hands God used to pour the water over me, and by means of whose voice God spoke my name and claimed me for His child, and set me free from sin and death and Satan. Pastor Theophil Schroedel. He was my pastor until I was nine or ten, and he lived until I was about twenty. I heard him preach in college, and in his late nineties, he could hold a room full of college student in rapt attention with the Word of God for a half-hour!
Anyhow, that is when I became the free child of God. My Independence Day was November 12, 1950. I remember celebrating my birthday every year for twelve or fifteen years (after fifteen, birthday celebrations tended to be less memorable), but I do not recall ever celebrating my Baptism - except on March 22, 1964. I was confirmed on that day, or rather, I confirmed the promises spoken for me at my Baptism. Even at that, I did not learn to treasure my Baptism or celebrate it and remember it until later in life.
Luther taught it to me, but only when I got old enough to actually pay attention to what I had memorized as a teen-ager. He wrote: "What does such Baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever."
According to Luther, our Baptism should play a part in our lives every day. We are to confess our sins each day and ask God's forgiveness, and then turn daily to the comfort of our Baptism. We are to remember and believe that there, at that moment, God claimed us, calling us by name and making us His very own. Does that mean that once someone is Baptized that they cannot fall from the faith and be lost? Sadly, no. Each year we hear of someone who turns to the pleasures of the world, or is led astray into some more seductive beliefs, and they turn from Christ, and find no comfort in Him, seek no forgiveness, and place no confidence in Him for their eternal salvation. I know some who have been deceived, and some who simply have cast Christ and the hope of eternal life aside for fame, or wealth, or popularity, or under the powerful delusion of what is so-called "learning" or "wisdom".
Usually, all we can do for such people is pray, for they have turned their ears away from the truth and will not permit us to speak with them about such things. Nevertheless, if they turn back, by the grace of God, their Baptism still retains its power. Then they, like us, may turn daily to face the caterwauling of the devil against them and say simply, "I am Baptized!"
There is no greater comfort than to remember that God has chosen you, personally. How do you know? Because His servant took you into his arms at the behest of God the Father, and God spoke through the voice He had called for that holy purpose - calling you by name and claiming you as His own child and heir. It wasn't a group event in which you may have slipped by, but you were addressed personally, by name. Pastor Schroedel said, "Robin Donald Fish, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." I know it is so, even though I cannot remember the events of that day, because my God-parents, Grandma and Grandpa, were there and witnessed it, and told me about it!
That was about me! And your Baptism was about you! All that Christ has won for us was poured out on us, each in our own turn, as we were adopted into the family of God. And we were set free!
Happily, I died that day. It is "happily" that I can report such a thing, because I know it means that I shall never die again. I died with Christ in His crucifixion. The Apostle Paul said, "We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death." And then comes the good part, "in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so, too, we might walk in newness of life." That means that I, and each one that has been baptized, not only died with Christ in His crucifixion, but we also rose with Him in His resurrection! That is the meaning of the "born again" language of Scripture. We died in our baptism - in a very real way - and then we were born again to a new and eternal life with Christ in His resurrection. That is why the hope we have in Christ is called a "living hope".
Of course, we don't see it with our eyes or experience it with our senses because it was our spirit that died with Christ, not our flesh. As far as I am aware, there are no nerve endings in the soul, only in the flesh. So, our flesh awaits the experience of death and resurrection. That is what is held in store for us on the last day. On that day, our flesh will rise - and those who have not died yet, physically, shall experience the transformation in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, just as our souls did in the miracle of the Sacrament of Baptism. Then we shall be reunited, body with soul, to live out the reality of the resurrection and the new and eternal life which we possess, but do not experience right now.
That day will be our Independence Day as well! But while we await that day, we can and we ought to celebrate the great day of our freedom which we know as the day of our Baptism. That is the day that the freedom won by Christ on Good Friday (Independence Day) and proclaimed for us on Easter (Independence Day) was made our own, individually, and sealed to us with the Holy Spirit, as a gift, making that day also Independence Day.
Finally, it is also quite appropriate for us to celebrate the Independence of our nation - the political Independence Day on July 4th. It is a great gift of God, one to be cherished and which wise men will endeavor to preserve (those individual liberties). It is appropriate to celebrate because it is good. It is appropriate to pause and give God thanks, whether we have special worship service in the church or not, for with it has come the freedom to worship Him openly and confess Christ to our neighbor. We see those liberties endangered today to some degree, and that is likely because too many have taken them for granted and not given thanks - or clearly confessed Christ. The best way to truly celebrate Independence Day is to do both: give thanks, and confess!
Yours in the Lord,
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