Fourth of July and Holy Saturday

Fourth of July and Holy Saturday

In the spring of 2024, a movie trailer splashed onto movie screens and social media depicting scenes of modern urban warfare. The words “All. Empires. Fall.” interspersed between scenes flashed against a black background. The setting isn’t Russia and Ukraine or China and Taiwan. No. Set in the near future, the film “Civil War” imagines a dystopian reality in which the United States has entered into another civil war. 

In the film, the “Western Forces,” an alliance between California and Texas, have seceded from the Union along with another set of states known as the ”Florida Alliance,” which includes the southern states of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. In the film, the origins and reasons for the war are not specified. And as World Journalism film critic Colin Garbarino explains,

“[The director’s] reluctance to endorse one side in America’s political struggle will infuriate those on both the left and right. But his film isn’t about laying blame or predicting how or why political violence might come to America. He’s just reminding his audience that we have it in us.” 

He’s just reminding his audience that we have it in us. This is an important truth to remember as we celebrate Independence Day.


A Deeply Divided Country

While I do not believe a civil war like the one depicted in the film is at hand, there is no doubt that our country is deeply divided. Moreover, the schisms that snake across the country like cracks in a windshield give no indication of abating anytime soon.

The situation may get much better. Perhaps God and his mercy would see fit to pour out a spirit of revival across our country. Join me in praying for a Third Great Awakening in our nation. However, it may get worse. It may get much worse. Perhaps not civil war worse, but still much worse than things are today—politically, socially, economically.


A Holy Saturday World

This is where Holy Saturday can help us. In his difficult but insightful book Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, theologian Alan Lewis offers an extended reflection on the day Jesus, the God-Man, was in the grave. We often think of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But what about Holy Saturday—the day in between—the whole day that he was dead?

While I don’t agree with everything in the book, Lewis offers a vital insight. He observes that we live in an Easter Saturday society marked by “dislocation, polarization, trivialities and negation”. Since 2001 when the book was published, these realities have only intensified. Holy Saturday disabuses us of naive optimism. After all, God allowed Jesus to suffer and die. This is the very worst thing that could ever happen. But this yields a strong, more durable hope that “…itself embraces the proposition that evil may increase, death have its day of triumph, and history be terminated” but that this is not the end of the story. 


A Hopeful Realism

So as Christians in the United States, as we celebrate Independence Day, the Fourth of July, we do so with a hopeful realism. Not a triumphal or naïve optimism that merely has faith in faith and hope in hope nor a despairing or paralyzing pessimism that renders meaningful engagement with the world futile.

We should mark the celebration of our country’s birthday with a clear-eyed evaluation of its failings—past and present—along with deep gratitude for its many gifts—past and present. But we neither despair in its failings nor hope in its gifts. For while we hope for better things to come, we also know no institution endures indefinitely—except the Church.


The Enduring Church and the Hope of the World

Empires, nations, and countries fall and Jesus continues to build his kingdom. The Church existed 17 centuries before the United States became a nation. The Church will endure long after the United States fades into history. The worst may happen. It may happen in your personal life. It may happen in our collective lives. In both cases, the promise of Holy Saturday is that God has been in the worst place and overcame it. The Son rose from the dead. The Holy Spirit came. The Church burst to life. The Church will continue to be the hope of the world as she has been through the rise and fall of empires, in times of peace and division. Not even the gates of hell can prevail against her.