Every year I participate in the Memorial Day Mass here in Cascade, as I’m invited to share something for 15 minutes. This year I decided, since I’m going to spend time writing it, and because I haven’t had anything to add to the blog in a couple of weeks, I’d put this up.
God bless all those who give themselves for the security of our nation and our world. No politics, not partisanship, but thanksgiving that there are people willing to give their very lives so that I may remain free.
Psalm 18:31-36, a psalm of the warrior David:
31 For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God?–
32 the God who equipped me with strength
and made my way blameless.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer
and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand supported me,
and your gentleness made me great.
36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.
– Psalm 18:31-36 ESV
I did not serve in our military. I have no concept of the sacrifice and loss of those who served. My Memorial Day will be marked by grilling and beer. I live a quite comfortable life where I can stand here, before airmen and soldiers, sailors and marines, and preach whatever message and gospel I wish, and I can do that and know that I will walk down the center of the sanctuary and no one will harm me. I benefit every day – every single day – from the sacrifice of warriors and servants and people much stronger than me, benefit every day from lives given to give me freedom. I stand in awe.
This year I struggled to prepare for today. I found my mind switching back and forth between wanting to emphasize the warrior and wanting to mourn the fallen. My soul wanted nothing more than to be the best servant of those gathered here today, especially those who did serve and did provide for the freedoms I enjoy and take for granted, my heart wanted nothing more than to touch someone who was struggling today because they mourn the loss of someone they loved, or miss someone who is battling, or struggle with the realities of returning to normalcy after war.
There is a part of me, as I stand before you, that simply wants to leave this pulpit and say nothing because I just do not understand the sacrifice that was given, and I do not understand the loss of loved ones who gave everything they had to give to make sure I could sit comfortably at my laptop and write something I hope approaches adequate on this sacred day. There is a part of me that knows, no matter how hard I try, I cannot make okay the pain and hurt that the sacrifice of life that soldiers give brings. There is a part of me that knows, no matter how much I labor over this, I cannot be adequate.
But I know I can say this: I am thankful that strong women and men, stronger than I am, were willing to lay their life down for me. I can say that I stand in awe at the willingness to sacrifice on behalf of all Americans, even pastors who talk too long and think too hard and worry about such trivial matters as having the right words on a day like today.
Psalm 13, another psalm of the warrior David:
13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
– Psalm 13 ESV
I do not know the sacrifice of battle, I do not know the loss that many in this room have experienced to provide my freedom, but I can imagine the pain of watching a friend die because I have seen the moment of death. I can imagine deciding to give everything for someone else because I have seen stronger people than me make that decision.
I can imagine, but I do not know. I do not know what you all gave, what you all experienced, the difficulties of service, but I am thankful for what you were willing to give to me, and to everyone else in this room.
I cannot help but think of that verse from the first letter from John as I think about Memorial Day: “This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” And also its parallel in the gospel of John: “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” So many of those who have served followed the path of Christ, being a bodily sacrifice for others, giving their very existence so that others may live a fuller, better life.
I stand here in awe. There is no other word I can use to describe the feeling of being able to stand in front of so many people who were willing to give up everything so that I can stand up in front of you. The irony of me preaching to you on this day is not lost on me; in fact, it brings me as close to speechless I as ever am. I am just a preacher who has given very little in the grand scheme; you all have given so much, and we gather together today in honor of those who gave more, who gave exactly everything they could possibly give.
I just want to stand here in silence for 1 minute, 60 seconds exactly to just remember everyone who died in service and who served and have now left this world and passed on to the next. 60 seconds to let the weight of their sacrifice sit on our shoulders, remember that it is the greatest love and sacrifice one can give.
(60 Second Silence)
Psalm 61, a closing psalm of the warrior David:
61:1 Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2 from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3 for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me dwell in your tent forever!
Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
8 So will I ever sing praises to your name,
as I perform my vows day after day.
– Psalm 61 ESV
P.S.: The psalms are taken from the ESV, the epistle and gospel verses from the CEB.