One of my favourite songs is I Vow to Thee, My Country, which uses an adapted version of Holst’s Jupiter. The song speaks of the call to be faithful to one’s earthly country and to the heavenly country that Christians inherit, sometimes referred to as the New Jerusalem, taken from the last chapters of Revelation.
This song does raise questions, however, and it also highlights the differences in patriotic fervour between cultures. Whenever I visit the United States I am struck by the prevalence of the flag and the pride which her citizens show in her history, her institutions, and her values. At the same time, however, I also notice a tension, a kind of identity crisis: there are those who would like her to stand unashamedly as a Christian nation, and there are those who would like to see her defined in secular terms. Both parties stake claims as to the intentions and disposition of the Founding Fathers.
The United Kingdom is a different story. We are more reserved and questioning concerning patriotism. Sure the England flags come out during the World Cup and in Brexit conversations, but on the whole we do not express ourselves in the way that our American cousins do. Does that mean that we do not have these feelings? Or are we simply more reserved?
As a Christian I am aware that the Church is drawn from all nations. Our Head of State is not the Queen or the President or the Prime Minister: it is Christ, God’s King. Our national interests are subordinated to the needs of His Kingdom. We send money overseas to help our brothers and sisters in Christ and to support missionary projects – money that the strict nationalist would have us spend at home. We show love and mercy to people whom we ought to consider risks to our national security. Why? Because we live in the hope that they may give their souls to Christ.
God divided the children of Noah into nations and sent them on their way with different languages. But God came in the person of His Son, Jesus, to make us a family once more. In Christ, He has broken down the national and cultural barriers that divide us. We now have a common frame of reference, a recognized truth that we share in common: Christ. He makes possible our fellowship in a world of divisions.
One day He will come again to judge the nations to which we once belonged. He will judge them on how they treated His people, His brothers and sisters. Some will enter into blessing and honour for their righteous acts and holy motivation; others will be sent into torment and disgrace.
I leave you with these words from Matthew 25:
When the Son of man comes come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit upon the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.