Let Freedom Ring

Seems like any time I find myself idly spinning through the AM dial in search of something -- anything -- to listen to, I cross paths with the Sean Hannity show (is he ever not on the air?) and his theme music, the chorus from Independence Day performed by Martina McBride. And every time I hear it, I think, wait a minute -- did she just sing "roll the stone away"?

Yup. She did:

Let freedom ring
Let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning
Let the weak be strong
Let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away
Let the guilty pay
It's Independence Day!

Now, I know that we live in an increasingly post-biblical culture, even in the still-highly-Christianized United States. So many listeners may not hear "Roll the stone away" as an explicit reference to Easter. And even if it is heard as an Easter reference, it may well be in a sort of a general metaphorical sense. The woman in the song's story is trapped in a "tomb" of an abusive relationship, and needs for the stone to be rolled away, the obstacle removed, so she can escape and find freedom.

The connection runs far deeper, though, for we who cannot hear mention of a rolled away stone without it bringing to mind the climax of the central story of our Christian faith -- when women disciples seeking to honor their dearly departed rabbi anxiously wondered who they would get to roll the stone away, only to encounter an angel who removed the stone from the mouth of the tomb in order to demonstrate its emptiness. The empty tomb is a more fundamental symbol of our faith even than the cross. Yes, our Lord died a shameful death for our sakes; but he did not stay dead -- he arose, defeating death by his resurrection.

The rolled-away stone, then, is not only a symbol or metaphor for our freedom; it is its very ground. Jesus testified to his countrymen who thought about freedom in terms of socio-political power arrangements; he offered them a greater freedom not from political or economic oppression, but from sin and death:
They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:33-36 NIV)
Our ultimate freedom is the freedom won for us by Christ's resurrection -- freedom from our own past, freedom from the scourge of death itself. More than any national commemoration, Easter is our Independence Day. More than any banner or flag, the rolled away stone is the emblem of our freedom.

Which is what makes the juxtaposition in McBride's stirring chorus so incongruous: "Roll the stone away/Let the guilty pay/It's Independence Day"

Whether we're talking about a war on terror on conservative talk radio or escape from domestic abuse in a country song, it makes sense to connect the independence of the victim with the punishment of the guilty. We are not truly free unless we are safe, and we are not safe unless justice is somehow restored, as through the punishment of the perpetrator. In terms of natural justice, independence for one and punishment for another go together.

But this is the scandal of the freedom of the rolled-away stone: it doesn't hinge on the punishment of the guilty. Quite the contrary: our independence hinges on the punishment of the one truly innocent person in history. The freedom conferred by that victim's sacrifice and vindication transcends the demand for justice. It's only natural to demand vindication when we've been wronged, but to grasp the freedom of the rolled-away stone, we cannot maintain our grip on our right to retribution. The freedom of the rolled-away stone lets the bastards get off scot free. All of the bastards. Even me.


steve lansingh said...

Love the post, Rachel. It's amazing how many central tenets of our faith get twisted back into conventional thinking so quickly that we miss their revolutionary-ness. I think we like the feeling of being upstanding citizens and not scandalous prophets. This fits well with N.T. Wright's current book tour (caught him on Colbert--thanks for the tip) about how the things that most Christians think they know about heaven are wrong, and wrong in ways that affect our lives here. Is there a book out there somewhere about "100 things most Christians don't question about their faith but fail to understand it if they don't" kind of thing?

Regarding justice, and the thirst for retribution, I often say that the good news of the gospel is that _other_ people's sins are forgiven. Because I think that most people are eager to think well of themselves, so the idea of forgiveness for their own sins is quite easily accepted, and leads to a kind of cheap grace. But to accept that other people's sins are forgiven -- insert name here of disliked relative, obnoxious movie star, pointy-haired boss, opposing political bigwig, not to mention murderers and abusers, etc. -- is much more of a struggle. And is truly good news, because to wallow in a state of arrested retribution is the opposite of freedom. To be given the gift of joining Jesus in forgiving their trespasses, to see them as God's creation and loved in cradled arms -- well, that is a saved life, freed up from bindings of hate and resentment, and can be restored to what God intended for each of us.

But even knowing this, it is hard to live it always. The retribution impulse is hard to quell. It'd be nice to have one bound volume with a lot of these key, difficult-to-maintain-in-our-culture ideas that could be poured over and over. I seem to get these treasures in random places that then slip through my synapses when I want to recall them.

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