A Time To Remember – Memorial Day
Revelation 7:9-17 & John 14: 23-29
Memory is a tricky thing. Particularly as we get older. You
may know the story about three women who were talking.
The first said, “Sometimes I go to the refrigerator and forget what I need by the time I get there.”
The second woman said, “When I go upstairs, I can’t remember whether I’m going up for something or I’m on my way back down.”
The third woman said, “I’m lucky, I guess (knocking on wood), I don’t have that problem. Oh, there’s someone at the door.”
One of our older comedians says he can always find his car in a parking lot ” it’s the one with the lights on.
Memory is a tricky thing. There are some things, however, that we should never forget. One of these is the sacrifices that others have made in our behalf.
It was a spring morning in 1866, just after the Civil War that had devastated the South. A group of Southerners did something quite extraordinary. They marched down the streets of what was left of their town to a cemetery. There they decorated the graves of the soldiers. ALL the soldiers ” Union as well as Confederate.
The mothers and daughters and widows had buried their dead. Now they buried their hatred. The time for healing had come. It was the first Memorial Day.
Have you ever wondered why Memorial Day is marked in May? Its date doesn’t recall some historic battle. Or the start of some war. Or the signing of an armistice. Why, then, May?
For a very practical reason. Because it is a time when flowers bloom. Flowers with which to decorate graves.
There are those who remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day and when the cemeteries were filled with people kneeling to plant a flower or place a garland or unfurl a flag or to say a prayer. Some still do. But most people can no longer be bothered. It would take time away from the beach, the backyard, the ball park. (1)
At the National Cemetery on Long Island, one of the nation’s largest, it has become necessary to advertise for volunteers to place flags on the graves of veterans as the number of veteran volunteers has decreased.
However, many of those who volunteer have no idea why they are there.
One young man, a 13-year-old Scout, was asked if he understood why the members of his Boy Scout Troop were there placing flags on the graves. He quickly replied, “To get service hours.” (2)
Memorial Day is obviously not one of our major holidays. But we need to remember. WE NEED TO REMEMBER THE DEBT WE OWE TO OTHERS.
You and I do not have what we have today by our own efforts alone. There is no greater myth than that of the self-made man or woman. We owe an enormous debt from the moment we come into this world. Some of that debt is owed to young men and women who shed their blood on battle fields. Many of them gave their lives because they truly believed that freedom is worth dying for.
To honor their sacrifice is not to glorify war. War is the ultimate blasphemy against God. Still, we live in a cruel world where tyrants would impose their will on others. It would be nice if we lived in a world where people always played by the rules, where no one coveted his neighbor’s property, where never again would we have to depend upon military might to enforce justice. But such a world does not yet exist. We do not know what dangers may yet await us.
When the war between the states flared up, a young Texan enlisted and marched off to fight with his friends. “We won’t be gone long,” he claimed, “cause we can lick them Yankees with broom sticks.”
Four years later when the fighting was finally over, the young man came home, a beaten man. One of his neighbors asked, “What happened? I thought you were gonna beat them Yankees with broom sticks.”
“We could have,” replied the young man, “Except we couldn’t get ˜em to fight with broomsticks.” (3)
It would be nice now that the Cold War is over if we could totally eliminate our defense establishment with the knowledge that no nation would ever commit aggression against its neighbor again. But that’s not the way the world is.
Winston Churchill used to tell a parable about a zoo in which all the animals decided to disarm. They arranged `peace talks’ to work out the details. The rhinoceros asked for a strict ban against the use of teeth in war. The stag and porcupine agreed, but the lion and tiger defended teeth as being honorable weapons. The bear, however wanted both teeth and horns to be banned, but suggested that all animals be allowed to give each other a good hug when they quarreled. This only served to offend all the other animals, and so they never could agree.
That’s the kind of world we live in. And thus, through the centuries young men, and sometimes young women, have been sacrificed in the cause of one noble ideal after another. Some of these wars have been senseless and barbaric, to be sure. But others have been necessary. We honor the memory this day of those who have given their lives believing that they were making the world safer, freer and more humane.
OF COURSE, THERE ARE OTHERS WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR LIVES FOR US WHO NEVER WORE A UNIFORM, NEVER CARRIED A GUN. Our Scripture lesson talks about those who “wash their robes in the blood of the lamb.” Among these are those who have given their lives in the service of Jesus Christ. And there have been hundreds of thousands of such sacrifices through the ages.
In the sixteenth century there was a bloody purge of Christians in Scotland. Thousands of ministers and lay persons suffered for Christ’s sake. Many were hanged or slaughtered in cold blood. Some of these believers endured the torture of burning at the stake or being beheaded. Patrick Hamilton was a young Scotsman, twenty-four years old, when he was sentenced to die. As he was tied to the stake and the fire was burning at his feet he pulled off his outer garments and handed them to his servant, saying, “These will not profit me in the fire, yet they will do thee some good.” Hamilton was taunted by one of his persecutors to deny God, but answered, “Wicked man! Thou knowest I am not at guilt, and that is the truth of God for which I now suffer.”
As the fire burned, the young martyr called out, “How long, O Lord, shall darkness overwhelm this realm? How long wilt Thou suffer this tyranny of man?” As he was being consumed by the flames he prayed like the biblical Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (4)
While we remember those who have died in battle we also need to remember committed followers of Jesus like Patrick Hamilton. They died in battle, too ” the battle between light and darkness. Their sacrifices remind us how anemic our own witness for Christ sometimes is. They gave their all. We dare not forget them.
AND THERE IS ONE MORE WE NEED TO REMEMBER THIS DAY. IT IS THE LAMB HIMSELF ” THE LAMB SLAIN BEFORE THE FOUNDATIONS OF THE WORLD.
J. Wilbur Chapman used to tell a story of a soldier who was mortally wounded. His buddy Jim stayed by him through his long and lonely illness to the very end.
“Jim, I’m going to die,” Charlie whispered to his friend. Knowing Jim had no family of his own, Charlie added, “But I want you to go back to my mother and take my place there.”
“But Charlie, your mother doesn’t know me,” Jim reminded his dying comrade, “and she would not allow me to come into her home and live as a son.”
“I will write her a letter and you will take it to her,” Charlie explained.
The letter told the mother of her son’s ill fortunes, of his wounds, and of his suffering, and how Jim had stuck by him day and night through it all. The letter closed like this, “Mother, receive Jim for my sake.”
Jim carefully tucked the letter away in his waistcoat. After the close of the war he went to Charlie’s hometown and sought out the mother’s home. He knocked at the door and stood waiting, ragged and worn from the ravages of war, a very unsightly character.
As the lady opened the door, she looked upon him and thought him to be just another beggar passing by. But Jim handed her the letter through the half-opened door. She read it, recognizing her son’s handwriting. When she read the last line, “Mother, receive Jim for my sake,” the expression on her face changed, tears of deep emotion welled up inside, and she threw the door open wide, receiving Jim “for Charlie’s sake.” (5)
According to our Bibles, that sort of acceptance is the story of the cross. God accepts us as His own beloved children for Christ’s sake. We may not understand why it had to be this way. But we look at the cross and we see there an open door.
And thus we remember. We remember those who died that we may live in freedom. We remember those who died that we may live in faith. We remember Christ who died that we may live forever. That’s the ultimate meaning of this Memorial Day weekend. It is a time to remember and it is a time to finish what they started.
They were shooting the movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on the day after Pearl Harbor. The cast listened as President Roosevelt announced on the radio that the United States was at war with Japan and Germany. At that point director Michael Curtiz came on the sound stage with Jimmy Cagney. They all listened in silence for the national anthem to finish. As the women dabbed tears from their eyes, and the men were deeply moved, Curtiz said in his best Hungarian accent:
“Now, boys and girls, we have work to do. We have bad news, but we have a wonderful story to tell the world. So let’s put away sad things and begin.” (6)
That’s our challenge, too. We remember with sadness and gratitude the sacrifices others have made in our behalf. Now we go out to tell our story.