Last Saturday evening my employer put on their annual July 4th celebration. Despite the fact that every year this shindig is held two full weeks prior to the actual 4th of July, it was an enjoyable event. I was actually “on the clock” for the night, responsible for helping to ensure the smooth and safe enjoyment of the 4000+ attendees.
The evening is capped off with an impressive fireworks show that we contract out to a pyrotechnics company. Much money is spent each year to ensure that the fireworks show looks like something a city would put on and not a large family in their backyard.
Just before the fireworks I had to turn off the street and parking lot lights to help the effect. After I did this, I went outside and watched the show with everyone else.
Most people have seen fireworks, so my goal this morning is not to describe the show. A couple of things stood out to me that I want to point out, briefly, over the next couple of days. Really the first thing that caught my attention was the crowd and their attention.
Despite the fragile moorings that we are attempting to hold to in our nation at the current time, there is still a sense of pride and beauty each year as we celebrate our independence. In a grammatical irony, that beautifully captures a slippery piece of American identity, our independence brings us together. Symbolically we shoot fireworks as a reminder that our freedom from England was not purchased with ink and talk, but with blood and sweat. Two of the highest register notes in our national anthem are the culmination of the lines, “rocket’s red glare” and “bombs bursting in air”. These lines are written and sung in such a way so as not to allow them to be quickly forgotten.
Spiritual independence is similar. We look at the cross of Christ as the culminating point of the cosmic struggle between good and evil. This independence, in that moment, was far more about blood than ink. Though the ink, the standard of the Law, had beaten and battered mankind by exposing his perpetual failures, the blood, the grace of the Father, became the balm to heal the wounds as well as the key to unlock the prison cell.
The thing that I noticed from the outset of the fireworks display, that I guess I had been too close to in every other instance to see, was the undivided attention that fireworks receive. On the grassy hill that had, literally, thousands of people scattered across it, every eye was focused on the sky. They stared intently at the black curtain of night, waiting for one more sparkly trail scurrying up invisible channels to the point of explosion. Every ear strained to hear one more percussive report of another moment of surprise and wonder exiting the tubes on the ground. If people talked at all it wasn’t about their taxes or their car payments or their future plans or their scarred past. Their attention was focused on something much more grandiose for the moment. The bottom line is simple: you don’t have to convince people to watch fireworks, you just have to light the fuse. If they are there, they will be watched.
I believe this to be true of the cross as well. When it is present, it is the center of attention. When it is shown, it steals every show. Jesus Himself said that if He is lifted up everyone will be drawn to Him. As we gaze upon that image, that sacrifice for liberty, I believe we will find that the things in life that plague our minds the most will lose their power, their sway over our decision making process, and their ability to enslave us. Also, those issues in life that seem to isolate us will be destroyed, because in our spiritual lives, as in our national story, our independence brings us together.
Our task today, and every day, is to both keep the life-altering work of Jesus Christ ever before the eyes of our hearts, and continually point out to those that might not know that independence has come. Perhaps we will find more national traction in this message than we have in the tired failures of political rhetoric.
All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
– Winston Churchill