Patriots’ Day was on April 19. It is a commemoration of the Battles of Lexington and Concord on that day in 1775. The tale of the battles, as well as the preludes the battles, are magnificent examples of American independence, tenacity, valor, and sacrifice for the cause of liberty. It was the day of the Shot Heard Round the World. Patriots’ Day should be a unifying rally cry for Americans today.
The Patriot Preacher of Lexington
Patriots’ Day is important to me this year because just a few days before the 246th anniversary, I received my acceptance letter to seminary in South Carolina to pursue a Master of Divinity. But what does that have to do with the battles? It is a lesser known part of the tale that the recruiter and organizer of the 77 Minutemen who stood against 400 British soldiers at Lexington was Reverend Jonas Clarke. And since 2020, public health regulations and executive orders have turned worship services into political battlefields.
When Paul Revere, Samuel Prescott, and William Dawes made their midnight rides, they were warning the patriots to flee or be captured by the British forces there. Revere stopped by Reverend Clarke’s home because John Hancock and Samuel Adams were both staying with him (they were hiding from the British). When the two Sons of Liberty asked the pastor if they could count on the men of Lexington to fight, his answer was simple:
“I have trained them for this very hour.”
It was not the famous patriot Samuel Adams that organized the first skirmish for American independence, it was not George Washington, nor any great American hero of the war. It was a pastor who for years had warned his church members that British laws and taxes were being passed to beat the colonists into submission to the Crown. The first battle of the American Revolution was between a church congregation and the British Army.
The Battle of Lexington
On the morning of April 19, as 400 British soldiers marched toward Concord to seize the patriot weapons caches there, 77 men from the church in Lexington stood in the way. Lexington was not the target, but Reverend Clarke’s Minutemen were willing to stand against the British forces as a delay tactic. Much like the battles at Bladensburg and the Alamo, the Lexington Minutemen were stood defiantly to give the other patriots time to organize.
Lexington began as a standoff. A British officer rode forward and ordered the Americans lay down their arms and disperse. The American commander, Captain John Parker, even attempted to tell the men to go home with their rifles, but his orders were subdued thanks to his tuberculosis. In the confusion, a patriot, likely not even in the formation, fired a shot at a British officer. It was likely a hotheaded patriot sharpshooter hidden in the hedges who caused the only British casualty at Lexington by wounding an officer.
The battle began with organized British volleys against the confused Americans. The Americans began to return fire, even though men had already begun to walk off the field. After a few volleys, the British closed the gap and made a bayonet charge to make the final blow against the faltering American line. Within just a short time, the Americans fled the field toward Concord.
The Battle of Concord
As the numbers of British Regulars grew, they fanned out through the region to find patriot supply caches. 100 British soldiers marched toward Concord, on the heels of the Minutemen who arrived and gathered on a hill to watch the British movements. The British did not want this battle, they were outnumbered this time, since over 400 militiamen had gathered against them. But with all the commotion, a British soldier fired against orders and commenced the battle.
The Americans had the greater numbers and the high ground when the battle began. Realizing this, the British closed in together near the North Bridge, hoping for reinforcements to arrive. But the Americans moved in regimental fashion and began to fire on the weakened British flanks. The British soldiers broke ranks and fled, leaving behind their wounded. Across town, British Grenadiers had arrived to help destroy the patriots’ weapons caches and met the defeated Regulars after the Minutemen had dispersed to tend to their families.
The American Revolution started in utter confusion. Neither side arrived at Lexington or Concord expecting battles. Nonetheless, the shot was heard round the world. For eight years, patriots would struggle to scrape together an Army and rely on the ideals of individual liberty held close by so many Americans.
The Patriots’ Day Sermon, 1776
On the first anniversary of the battles, Jonas Clarke preached a commemorative sermon. To put it into perspective of the time, at this point, patriots had already begun overthrowing colonial governments and implement state constitutions. Americans routed the British in Boston, but the invasion of Canada was an abysmal failure. The reality of the war of independence was that it would be a brutal fight across all the colonies, it would be brutal.
In his sermon, Reverend Clarke described how God uses even the evils of men for His greater purpose:
“In those blessed assurances of God’s presence with his people, even in their heaviest trials and greatest perplexities, we might safely appeal to the experience of his chosen, in every age, from the beginning to the present time. This will show how easy it is, with an infinitely wise God, to bring good out of evil.”
The Church in America Today
Since the lock downs in 2020, churches across the United States received cease and desist orders as part of the Covid pandemic response. Last summer, my father, the pastor of Ark Christian Fellowship in Fresno, CA, even received a cease and desist order. The city threatened fines and even to shutdown his church if he persisted with in-person worship, despite the Ark gathering with precautionary measures in place. Worship continued unhindered. American church leaders have been threatened with penalties such as $2 million in fines for Calvary Chapel in San Jose, closure, like Greater Grace Church in Baltimore, and even jail like Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of River of Tampa Church in Florida for violating the public health directives.
This was a pivotal moment in American history: when believers in the United States discovered their faith was not celebration of their liberty, but a superstition government leaders tolerated until it was inconvenient. Essential faith practices were deemed ‘nonessential’ and many church doors shuttered.
During the pandemic, severe mental health issues in society, when drug, alcohol, and domestic abuses have all skyrocketed. Suicide rates among adolescents and military personnel, have all risen since 2020. In such a time, Americans should never be closed off from their faith communities. Faith offers a hope for joy and salvation, even against persecution.
“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” (Hebrews 10:39-11:1)
Featured: The Dawn of Liberty depicts the Minutemen at Lexington Commons, site of the Short Heard Round the World
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