The upcoming festivities here in Lake City set me to thinking a little bit about some of the historic ramifications of the 4th of July: In 1863, as June broiled into July, rumors began to fall like long-awaited raindrops on the starving and thirsty people of Vicksburg, Mississippi. It looked as though, General Pemberton was finally reconciled to the fact that reinforcements would never come and he was considering throwing in the towel. On the 4th of July, the terms of surrender hammered out and accepted. the Federal troops, led by General Grant, rode victoriously into the city. After 47 days of siege and constant bombardment, the citizenry, both black and white, crept out from filthy caves to meet a new reality.
Battered and embittered, they endured not only that lengthy siege, but also Federal occupation, followed by years of post-war reconstruction. White people were disheartened by what they had lost. Former slaves soon realized that this new freedom was not the marvelous be-all, end-all they had envisioned. Heart wounds were deep and very slow to heal. The corporate memory of that awful siege and the humiliation of surrender was so repugnant that the 4th of July holiday was totally shunned and ignored in Vicksburg for generations. Not until after America’s WWII victory did attitudes slowly begin to change and they felt able to fully rejoin the United States and celebrate the 4th of July again. No one walked away from that sad experience unscathed. Years of exposure to constant uncertainty, hunger, fear and stress had taken a heavy generational toll. Bitterness and anger, in addition to loss of loved ones, property and prospects left Southerners with serious scar tissue and a true desire for some sort of mental delineation from this brave new world. Vicksburg couldn’t move on from that fateful 4th of July. Today, we are far removed from the pain and disillusionment of the American Civil War. Yet, all of these symptoms and feelings are universally relate-able and current. Life happens, dreams can be elusive, health fleeting, people will continually disappoint or damage us, fortunes come and go, the list is endless. We were never intended to carry these enormous burdens of life on our own. Jesus, in Matthew 11:28 calls all of us who are weary and heavy laden to come to Him and he will give us rest. (We will explore the Hebrew ideology of the word “rest” in another post but it is much larger than an afternoon nap.) Are you among the walking wounded? Are you caught in the old “Vicksburg” pattern of continually nursing those grudges, wallowing in real or imagined suffering? Friends, clinging to life’s “If onlys” and mourning our losses is the spiritual equivalent of constantly picking at a weeping scab. I’m not saying that your hurt, shame or pain are not real, or even that those that have inflicted damage deserve to be forgiven: but, will you choose to stay in that place of self- righteous woundedness and let it steal your family’s destiny, divert you from your dreams and smother your hope of present joy? Scripture tells us that forgiveness is the balm, the antibiotic, that creates an atmosphere for spiritual and sometimes physical healing. Only with true forgiveness can that Spirit of Bitterness be yanked out by the root to make room for the joy of real freedom. Let this be the year you celebrate real Freedom in Christ. Let this 4th of July, 2014 be your true Independence Day! Scripture references for Forgiveness: Matt 6:14-15, Mark 11:25, Acts 3:19, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 1:13-14 Bondage: 2 Timothy 2:26, 2 Peter 2:19, Acts 8:23