My neighbor asked me what plans my wife and I had for the upcoming weekend. I was kind of caught off guard. So I responded, “What weekend is this?” “Memorial Day,” he said. “Oh,” I said. “Well, those three day weekends don’t do anything for me, since I’m always working right in the middle of them.”
So now I’m thinking about the weekend, and I’m a little ashamed that my first thoughts were about what to do with a three day weekend, rather than what Memorial Day means. It is not a day to honor all military veterans. That’s Veterans Day. Rather, Memorial Day is a day to remember specifically those who have died in service to the United States of America. It was begun soon after the American Civil war as “Decoration Day,” in which the graves of those who had died were decorated. This tradition of decorating the graves of deceased service men and women continues today.
Memorial Day then brings a mixture of feelings. First, there is the obvious gratitude for those who gave their lives for our nation. Gratitude is then followed by sadness about the horror of war. It brings to memory friends and relatives who died in wars, and what their lives might have been like if they had not died so young. I always have to go back and look up the name of the tiny island in the South Pacific (Funafuti) where my cousin was killed. Then I wonder if he were alive, would he still live on the family farm in Southwest Virginia granted to our family by the king? After nearly three centuries of being farmed by the same family, it was sold, in part, because he was the one to inherit the land, but he had been killed in war.
My faith in Christ is a major cause for the mixture of my feelings. You and I live in a country where it’s acceptable to not be Christian, but you dare not tell someone that you’re not a patriot. But I think Christian patriots like me cannot help but have a mixture of feelings on Memorial Day. There is grief for lost loved ones, but there is also the celebration of resurrection. There is gratitude for people who gave their lives for our country, but there is also the nagging question, “Did this person have to die, or could the war have been avoided?” When I think of each person that I knew who died in war, and the cost paid by those who died and their surviving families, it makes me wonder: “Haven’t we found a better way, yet?” Jesus taught us things like “turn the other cheek” and “blessed are the peacemakers.” And on the evening of his arrest which sealed his fate, Jesus could have called up an army of angels to deliver him. His disciples began to defend him. But the Prince of Peace told them, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:51-53). Faith is the risen Christ is belief that the power of love is greater than the power of violence and is the only power that can really conquer evil.
So maybe I don’t have big plans for the weekend. Instead, I will remember lives lost, give thanks for their sacrifice, and pray for the day when God’s dream is realized. My prayers contain pleas such as “Protect our troops, and sustain their families.” “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “Deliver us from evil.” And “Teach us to love our enemies instead of killing each other” (from Matthew 5:44).