According to news commentator and Episcopalian Jon Meacham, less than one-half of one percent of Americans serve on active duty in our combined armed forces. I was surprised by the number. I grew up surrounded by the military. My father was career army and he served on both army posts and air force bases. I attended military schools overseas. When my brother was little he called any man in uniform daddy. It was rather embarrassing for my mother. My father served in the second world war and received a battlefield commission. He served in the Korean Police Action (we never declared war on Korea; we were supporting the UN police action), but for those fighting it was war. He never talked about the war except to say how hospitable the Japanese were to him during the occupation and how beautiful Korea was. The only time he mentioned the actual fighting was when my brother and I were watching a movie about the Korean War entitled ”Pork Chop Hill.” I made the comment that they could have come up with a better name for the battle, when my father responded: “That was the name, I was there.” My father served his country for 28 years and when he died at 52 his death was ruled service connected. He was a quiet man and a good officer who respected his men and was respected by them. He didn’t die in battle and like others he did come home, but many of them returned damaged either physically or mentally. My husband was also in the military and served in Vietnam. He came back but was never the same. He didn’t talk about his experiences either. Both my father and my husband were Christians and saw their military service as a calling, a calling to service and sacrifice. They volunteered, making a conscious decision to serve. Those who served throughout the history of our counttry deserve, at least, a moment of silence in prayer of thanksgiving and a nod in recognition of the wars in which they served, fought and, in many cases, died. The latter is the supreme sacrifice for freedom and democracy. In the words of Civil War General John A. Logan, “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance.” Of all the civic holidays on our U.S. calendar, Memorial Day may come closest to a deep embrace of spiritual values. Originally called “Decoration Day,” this remembrance began following one of the most poignant eras in our country’s history. Between 1864 and 1866, just after the end of the American Civil War, community leaders established a date upon which we could honor both Union and Confederate war dead. To remember those who had died in the service of their country, these leaders established observances that enabled Americans to engage in activities of unity and spiritual healing. It was intended as a time of both healing and reconciliation. And is that what Christ taught? His death reconciled us to God. Reconciliation brings us together, forming us into a community. It was in this spirit that I believe the original decoration day was celebrated – bringing our country, north and south, together. Now decoration day is a national holiday and for many a long weekend. Schools, banks, government offices are closed. How are you celebrating this weekend? How will you remember those who died and our veterans on this Memorial Day? Is this just another long weekend for you? Is this weekend just another opportunity to tap your touch screen to download a coupon for a great sale? Now don’t misunderstand me, I love a good sale. So on this Memorial Day, in the midst of our long weekend of sleeping in, shopping, rounds of golf, beach trips – something my family did living on the east coast – all of which are wonderful and fun things to do and be a part of, let us pause for a minute or two to recall, reflect, and remember those who have protected the borders of this great nation and its place in the world.
Memorial Day is a sacred commemoration. The persons we honor on this day are a silent witness to a virtuous honor that is particularly dear to people of spiritual values. This is the time each year when we remember men and women who have been, as is written about a leader of Roman soldiers in the New Testament, “…set under authority (Luke 7:8) …” On this day we remember that some of those under authority have, as a consequence of their service, sacrificed their lives. Is there a cause for which dying is honorable? Laudable? For those who embrace Godly values, the question about dying in the service of your country has some important implications. Military training almost always contains the underlying lesson that being involved in the fulfillment of a mission could end up in death. Obviously, military service is not a commitment to be considered lightly by those who take the oath of office to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” (10 U.S. Code, Section 502). At the same time, few ever thought they would die during a military mission. Unfortunately, some have died. I believe that people of faith can find spiritual values from the stories of men and women who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” of their lives. Christ tells us in John 15: 13 “ Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And Christ has commanded us to love one another. Shouldn’t we as the Church take this opportunity to say something significantly Christian and deeply valuable to the nation on Memorial Weekend Sunday. In songs and prayers, readings, sermons, announcements, and symbols, we can recall the meaning of their sacrifice. The soldiers who died in battle gave their lives, they paid the ultimate price for the cause of their nation. These examples of bravery and devotion should remind us all of the sacrifice, devotion, and courage of Jesus Christ to lay down His life for us.
Whatever freedoms we have, we can and should be thankful for; they were bought and paid for by those who served and died in battle.
I am sure there are people here today who have suffered personal losses of family and friends in recent and past wars; losses that will continue as long as our troops are deployed and least we forget to include our law enforcement who also place themselves in harm’s way serving our communities here at home. We should put aside our opinions about the justifications for war and reach out to those who have been impacted by it. Prayers for the war dead and their surviving families and friends can bring healing and peace to people. Memorial Day Weekend can mean far more than the opening of a public pool or a parade or a big sale. While it is a civic holiday, we can highlight also that it is an intersection between values of our Christian faith – love and sacrifice – and our surrounding culture.
Though personally we cannot thank service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country, surely we can honor them. We can pray that the memory of their sacrificial service will endure. We will remember them. However, we can thank our veterans and those who are serving in the military and in law enforcement now. For the past few years I have taken the opportunity to thank men and women in uniform for their service to our communities and our nation. Granted there have been some surprised reactions to a strange women coming up and speaking to them, but their smiles and responses show their appreciation. So I challenge you from this Memorial Day on to personally thank our service men and women and our law enforcement men and women. Remember they are following Christ in their willingness to sacrifice themselves for us.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, We give you thanks for all those who have laid down their lives in the service of country. Comfort those who returned damaged in mind, body or spirt and we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.