By Rev.Eliot Howard
Yesterday was Patriot’s Day. It marks the beginning of the military resistance of colonists against the British crown in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord. Growing up in Concord I experienced Patriot’s Day as a big deal. There was town dance, parade and re-enactment of the midnight ride of Paul Revere (actually, the ride of Samuel Dawes because Revere was captured before he reached Concord). What really got folks stirred up was a 21 gun salute dawn salute at the “Old North Bridge”, site of the first battle between Redcoats and the Minutemen. The 21 gun salute was not conducted with vintage muskets, but with two large cannons. They were loud. Windows of homes half a mile away rattled when they were fired. My ears are still ringing. But, pin up red, white and blue bunting, throw in fifes and drums, and you had yourself an American High Holy Day.
I have a memory of one Patriot’s Day in particular. It was when Patriot’s Day and Easter Sunday fell on the same day. What made the Easter/Patriot’s Day calendar collision interesting was that the Easter sunrise service was also held at the Old North Bridge each year. So, on Sunday, April 19th 1976, patriotic Christians of Concord had a choice; “Do I go with the cannons or do I go to the cross?” I don’t remember how it all played out for people but both events took place. I don’t know which got the bigger crowd.
Holy Week 2017 brought to mind the Patriot’s Day/Easter conflict first brought to my consciousness as a young person. Last week followers of Jesus in America were given the choice of aligning with one of two power plays: the first was Jesus on the way to the cross. The other, a musculature form of American patriotism fueled by violence. During the week, as Jesus laments humanity’s blindness to the ways of peace, the military unleashes “M.O.A.B.” – a never before used weapon, the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the world. A sick fondness of weaponry had people happily referring to it as “The Mother of All Bombs.” Then, while Jesus shares his last meal – “body broken and blood shed”, the President regales a reporter with the story of his “unbelievable” meal of launched missiles and chocolate cake. On Good Friday, the day when the echo of the crowd’s chant, “Crucify him!” is still in the air, and Jesus is crucified by the state, the governor of Arkansas eagerly works to do the “will of the people” by moving forward with 8 executions in 11 days. On Easter the Vice President declares, all military options are “on the table” in dealing with North Korea. After all, as candidate Trump said of nuclear weapons, “Why build them if you won’t ever use them?”
It has been many years since my childhood observance of the Patriot’s Day/Easter clash in Concord. It was first, and most simply illustrated by the choice between “cross or cannons” at the Old North Bridge. But this year, the contrast between the under-realized power of the cross and the over celebrated force of violence is both clearer to me and admittedly more complicated. But we are still needing to choose between the ways of life and death. For Christians to choose the power and way of the cross will take wisdom, courage, prayer, humility and trust. It will also, as always require the support of a community formed, reformed and inspired by the good news of Easter; life over death.
Rev. Eliot Howard is the Pastor at Linden Hills United Church of Christ in Minneapolis.