For July 7, 2013: Independence Day

The Reading      Deuteronomy 10:17-21

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty, and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward:

18 He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.

19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

20 Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.

21 He is thy praise, and he is thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.

 

The Gospel      Matthew 5:43-48

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Further thoughts

St Alban’s is celebrating US Independence Day 2013 with a Eucharist based on the very first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP). This 1790 service provides for only two readings, from the Old Testament and the Gospels—and none for Independence Day as such, though it offers prayers worth reviving for the President and for Congress. In fact, no authorized edition of the BCP before 1928 ever specified Independence Day readings. It is the 1928 readings that St Alban’s somewhat anachronistically uses today with the 1790 order of service, in the King James translation rather than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

The 1928 readings make a striking pair, especially for their time. The 1928 BCP came into use ten short years after the end of what was then called the Great War, the European conflagration of nationalism that was the first major military venture of the United States as a world power. One expects celebratory verses about cities on hills, anointings, or victory, or perhaps cautionary tales of unpreparedness, intemperance, or failure to exercise civic virtues.

What we find, however, are two remarkable injunctions to love. Each is addressed not just to individuals but to the community: this is less obvious in modern English, in which you can denote one or many, but it is quite clear in the consciously archaic English of the King James version, which carefully distinguishes plural ye and you from singular thou and thee. The Deuteronomy writer’s “Love ye the stranger” thus bids all of us to care for the person who is Not Us: not from these parts, not from our economic stratum, not of our race or language, not a citizen (for some other translations render “stranger” as “alien”). Then Jesus commands, “Love your enemies”, serving notice on all his disciples—us, too—that we are to love widely and deeply and without regard to who’s right or wrong, good or bad, ours or theirs.

That’s God’s love, and it’s as remarkable in our time as it was almost 90 years ago. More’s the pity.

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