Memorial Day 2019
My Friends: I greet you in the Name of the Lord on this 151st commemoration of Memorial Day. It is always an honor to stand in this House of Prayer for ALL people and bring an encouraging Word.
Euphemisms. Euphemisms. I am frequently struck by the many expressions we Americans use to disguise what we really think or feel. For instance, we military folks call our dead “casualties” or the “fallen,” when truthfully they have died… OR, when we accidentally kill innocent civilians in the theatre of operations, we refer to them as “collateral damage,” when we know it is murder.
Over all these years, we’ve come up with myriad Euphemisms to mask truth. The best example is the amusing phrase I grew up with, “bless your heart!” I can still hear my late mother saying when she vehemently disagreed with or disapproved of someone…she would say, “Well, bless her heart!” Amusing because the person saying it means anything but blessing the person they’re talking about. “Bless your heart!’
Well, I am persuaded that our terminology for this weekend also counts as a euphemism. “Memorial Day” somehow sounds to me a sanitized expression for what we’re afraid to say. The truth is that, in order to secure our liberty and perpetuate our democracy, people must die. Our sons and daughters and granddaughters and grandsons are the ones who have paid the price for the freedoms we enjoy.
By referring to this day simply as a “Memorial,” it is as if we get permission to rest on our laurels: just relax; put-away the academic year; take a family trip; enjoy a neighborly barbecue, and get-out those Seersucker suits. When it’s just a Memorial we can behave as if nothing important happens; we can act like the sacrifices were not real! Fascinating, isn’t it? the lengths to which we can do to avoid the truth!
Now, I am the Armed Forces Bishop of the Episcopal Church, or as I prefer to call myself, “the Flying Bishop” because I go all over the world bringing the Love of God to our chaplains and troops. I continue to be grateful for these patriots whose lives epitomize selfless service; patriots who are perfectly willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom and way of life.
I continue to insist that our Chaplains and Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen are on the “Frontline” of the “Jesus Movement,” our Presiding Bishop preaches about so much.
The people I bless all around the world are the ones who know that this weekend isn’t just a “Memorial.” A memorial is merely remembering something that happened long ago, but has little or nothing to do with what we’re doing now! A memorial on a gravestone simply commemorates something that happened once upon a time. A memorial, in a meeting or convention, is NOT an actionable item; it’s just something that says, “Oh! Bless their hearts; isn’t that nice?!”
But I submit that the true purpose of this weekend is far deeper, far nobler than simply memorializing. Just ask the parents of the STEM High School children who were senselessly killed the other week by a deranged young man. Those who loved these victims of domestic war being waged on our children and our churches and houses of worship are not merely memorializing them; for they love them even unto death. A part of them is PHYSICALLY no more, but SPIRITUALLY will be with them forever!
I still remember when I was on my way to Iraq the first time, I was afraid. That Sunday before I deployed I was afraid and preached a sermon I titled, “What are you willing to die for?” I knew that my death was a distinct possibility. But somehow, by God’s grace, I was perfectly willing to die for my faith, my friends, and my country. I was comforted by Jesus’s immortal commandment when He was about to die: “Great love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends (John 15:13).” Whenever I’ve been in “harm’s way,” those words have comforted and emboldened me to do God’s Will.
I’d like to suggest the best way of honoring our war dead is by telling the truth: THEY DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE.
WHY did they die? They died for their comrades and battle buddies; and for their families and loved ones.
WHY did they die? They died because at some point they raised their right hand and swore to protect and defend the Constitution.
WHY did they die? They died because “somebody’s got to do it.” In every age, somebody’s got to stand up and be counted; somebody’s got to stand on the Frontline to protect the rest of us in the Rear.
WHY did they die? They died because they learned to believe in something greater than themselves; they learned the nobility of sacrifice.
WHY did they die? THEY DIED THAT WE MIGHT LIVE.
Today, in the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus saying, “No one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And admonition for us all.
And, Oh, by the way, in that same war zone I referred to earlier, some “casualties,” as we call them, were coming in; and instinctively I jumped up out of my Chapel Tent to assist with unloading the wounded and the dead. It was my honor to do so. But this particular time, when I returned to my Chapel Tent, my Chapel had been pretty much obliterated by enemy fire. If I hadn’t gone to share God’s Love, I wouldn’t be here today.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that on an occasion like this, we have sisters and brothers of many faiths and creeds present…So, on this Memorial Weekend, I invite you to take the time to reflect on the sacrifices that have been made to ensure our liberty. All of the great faith traditions recognize the sacrifice and selfless service. In my own faith tradition, I acknowledge especially the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. And it is in His Name that and I say with utmost sincerity, “Bless Your Hearts!” AMEN.