American patriotism is a national pride which, to a degree, is deserved, right and appropriate. And we celebrate our country this weekend and are thankful to God for the privileges our nation affords us—especially the freedom to worship Jesus.
A number of years ago, however, I had an experience that caused me to reflect on patriotism.
My wife Karla and I were living in England at the time and there were a number of other Americans around. One year someone decided that we should throw a big 4th of July barbecue. You might not have ever appreciated this before—I hadn’t, but the Independence Day is not exactly a popular holiday in England!
About 40 of us showed up with some English friends for a traditional 4th of July celebration. About 40 of us showed up with some English friends for a traditional 4th of July celebration.
• We grilled hotdogs and burgers and ate potato salad.
• We sang our country’s songs.
• We read from our country’s foundational documents and some of the writings of our Founding Fathers.
• We reflected on our country’s ideals and our hearts were warmed to our native land.
• We all left with full hearts, with a renewed sense of patriotism and that intangible experience of being in the presence of people who were uncannily familiar, and this in spite of many difference—Americans from all points of the compass.
On that day in Cambridge, England, the presence of the America was tangible. The USA was heard, tasted, and experienced. We became an American outpost in an English backyard.
Since that sun afternoon in an English garden I reflected on the similarity between that experience and what we do when we gather together as a church; and not least when we come together as we are today to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus through the Lord’s Supper, the Communion.
Believers in Jesus are citizens of God’s government whose king is the resurrected Son of God, Jesus Messiah. The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Philippians (3:20) that a believer’s citizenship is in heaven from where we eagerly await the arrival of our Savior. Christians are expatriates of a foreign government—a government that will arrive in the future. Christians are people who presently reside in a foreign land no matter where they are on the earth.
When we gather to worship Jesus weekly we are outposts, enclaves, if you will, of a future kingdom which has broken into, that has stormed the present world in the work of Jesus. Like the Allied Forces invading the Normandy Beaches early on a June morning in 1944 God’s kingdom has begun to liberate this world. The Church is a station of liberation.
When we gather weekly we embody God’s foreign society on earth.
• We sing songs celebrating our founding as a people and the ideals of the Kingdom.
• We listen to the Bible, the foundational text of our identity as a people.
• We reflect on the ideals of the kingdom..
• We depart again into the foreign land with hearts full, with a renewed sense of identity and with that intangible experience of being truly understood and known.
• And . . . we eat; we eat the meal of the kingdom, the Lord’s Supper.
Our regular gatherings and the work of the church in the world represent the tangible presence of a distant kingdom within a foreign country. This can perhaps be called Messianic Patriotism, the patriotism inspired by Jesus’ Messianic kingdom. An infinitely more profound patriotism than that inspired by American action and ideals.
When partaking of the Lord’s Supper the church looks backward as it commemorates what Jesus has done for us in the giving his body, represented by the bread, and shedding his blood, represented by the cup. Jesus himself, when instituting the meal with his disciples on the night he was betrayed, referred to his work, represented by the bread and the cup, as establishing a new Constitution, a new Covenant.
By his death and resurrection God made it possible for sinners to be forgiven and to become his people.
The Lord’s Supper also looks forward and anticipating that future day when Jesus returns as the King and savior of the world. On that future day, the Bible tells us he’ll hold a great banquet in celebration of his victory over evil and sin and the creative work of a new earth. Communion is a foretaste of that Messianic banquet.
So when we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are celebrating the ground, the basis, the foundation of our new citizenship, but we also are celebrating the assured hope of the future world with God in the Messianic Kingdom.
PS: HBO has been showing the mini-Series John Adams and it provides a powerful picture of the forces that led to the Declaration of Independence and its aftermath.