The Rev. Daphne Noyes of the Church of the Advent in Boston told us a few years ago that “In 1602, a 30-year-old lawyer and privateer, Bartholomew Gosnold, set sail from Falmouth, England, on a course due west from the Azores. His ship, Concord, had a keel length of 39 feet and a breadth of 17-1/2 feet, and it leaked. In May, Concord reached landfall: the coast of New England. Gosnold’s shipmate Gabriel Archer wrote:
This main is the goodliest continent that ever we saw, promising more by far than we any way did expect; for it is replenished with fair fields, and in them fragrant flowers, also meadows, and hedged in with stately groves, being furnished also with pleasant brooks, and beautified with two main rivers that, (as we judge) may haply become good harbors, and conduct us to the hopes men so greedily do thirst after. . .
“Gosnold’s Concord carried 32 people: a crew of 8, 12 potential settlers, and 12 other passengers. When they encountered Natives, the Englishmen seemed most impressed by the copper disks that hung from their necks and were used as ear decorations. They described the men’s long hair as tied in a knot at the back of the head, and decorated with feathers.
“Much less is known about two of the passengers who might be of particular interest to us. First, there was John Brereton, a graduate of Cambridge, ordained in the Church of England ate age 26. He was thirty years old at the time of sailing.
“Then there was James Rosier, son of an English cleric, born in 1573, also a graduate of Cambridge, who converted to Catholicism at age 29, in 1602–the same year as the voyage.
“An Anglican clergyman and a Catholic scholar were highly unlikely shipmates. These were not easy times in Christendom. The parents or grandparents of each of these young men would be able to recall – and might even have witnessed — the persecution and execution of Protestants under Queen Mary. In the five year period between 1553 and 1558, nearly 300 people died for their faith: clergy, laymen, married couples, some with their children.”1
What were all these people seeking? Freedom. Happiness. Rest and work. A new world. They found it here, of course, and a hundred and seventy years later our Founding Fathers codified what this new world stood for, a national creed written under duress, still yearning for the same freedom Brereton and Rosier were looking for.
Jesus calls to us today: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We hear these comfortable words after the Absolution during each Mass, and they signal to us our freedom from sin, they are a beacon of spiritual liberty, of happiness, of rest and work, of a new world founded on Christ, our true foundation.
I love Independence Day, and as I’ve pointed out before, it’s actually a feast day on the Church Calendar with its own collect and lessons. The Church joins with our nation in celebrating the best of what America has to offer. We have celebrated all weekend with barbecues and fireworks; Doan and I put out even more flags than we had out before.
But I wonder if the best way to celebrate the freedom we enjoy is to spread that freedom – here and around the world, but starting here; to take in those huddled masses, the broken and the hungry, the sick and the prisoner, and treat them as we would treat Christ; to show them Christ in how we treat them; to meet the needs of those who don’t yet enjoy the freedoms that we do; to offer them the comfortable words that Christ offers us at every Mass, “Come unto me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
1 The Rev. Daphne Noyes. http://theadventboston.org/sermons/dn070311.htm