This weekend and on Monday, the 30th, Americans will celebrate the 154th anniversary of Memorial Day, begun shortly after the Civil War ended. We honor it annually through picnics, vacations, races, family fun and a day off work. It has become—a day when we remember not only the brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice—their lives—for the cause of freedom, but when many “decorate” the graves of loved ones in their memory. Thus it is sometimes called “Decoration Day.”
Poets, preachers and historians have written and spoken eloquently about those who have fought for our freedoms. We do well to reflect upon the incalculable sacrifices made by men and women in and out of uniform, and their families, in the cause of securing our liberties. Thank you, mothers, for sending your sons and daughters to serve at home and abroad in the greatest armed forces ever assembled. Thank you to fathers and sons, brothers and husbands, wives and daughters, sisters and best friends who have waved good-bye to a G-I as he or she embarked on a journey not knowing when or whether they would return. We pause, thankfully, to remember all who have bid that final farewell in the cause of “duty, honor, country.” May their memory live on!
A friend of mine prayed this solemn prayer: “Father God, as we pause on this weekend, I pray that You will move in the minds and hearts of all who profess to know You; Lord, make of us the men and women whom You are seeking to make a difference worth remembering if only in our own sphere of influence. Restrain us from personal compromise and corruption. Remove complacency and confusion far from us, and replace caution for self-interest and correction with courage. May we be the people who know their God, display strength, and take action. And thank You, Father, for Your manifold and untold blessings upon this land. Forgive us for lack of gratitude for Your goodness, and our indifference to Your Person and Presence. Speak to our President and our leaders. Remind them that though they vainly boast transparency, a far greater accountability awaits them. Protect the men and women of our military, and use them for good. Keep between them and their families while they are separated by the call of duty. In whatever way You can, O God, and in whatever way You choose, awaken our people to truth and righteousness, and to You. And bless all to whom You are both God and LORD. Amen. (John Aker, retired military, and minister of the gospel).
No doubt you have been blessed by reading Psalm 91, called by some the “Soldier’s Psalm,” which begins: “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” In World War II, there was a brigade that recited the Psalm daily, so much so that they were given the name “91st Brigade.” This unit was engaged in three of the bloodiest battles of the war– but did not lose a single soldier in combat. (From “the Father’s Business,” Birmingham, AL). We, too, are engaged in fierce warfare, every day, with principalities and powers of darkness. Let us claim, through reading and mediation on Ps.91, God’s refuge, deliverance and protection.
When I think about Memorial Day, I usually recall the 1919 poem a young soldier penned shortly before his battlefield death on foreign soil. You no doubt have heard or read it many times. The first, sad stanza reads:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row that mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly, scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead, short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow; loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be it yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.” (John McCrae) (Sorry, I could not stop with just the first stanza!)
If you know me personally, you are aware that I love great poems, so, I beg of you to read the conclusion of this Memorial weekend installment of “You and God,” with just the first stanza (promise) of an 1847 poem— a very sad one by Theodore O’Hara, titled “The Bivouac of the Dead,” in memory and honor of all of our fallen heroes and their sacrificing families:
“The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat,
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few;
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread;
But Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.”
Ellen and I wish you and yours a happy, fun, meaningful Memorial Day as you pause to “remember.”
“The memory of the just is blessed….” (Proverbs 10:7)