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Reflections following Memorial Day

Memorial Day was inaugurated in 1868 by General John A. Logan for the purpose of decorating the graves of Civil War veterans. Years have passed, and there have been numerous other wars and police actions. A few of these being World War l, World War ll, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iran, Afghanistan, and others.

The Masterpiece Theater series on the legendary English schoolmaster, Mr. Chips, serves as a reminder. Several scenes open with Mr. Chips calling the roll. As the names are pronounced, the response is “Here, Sir” and thus the beautiful relationship between teacher and pupil is formed around the situation. At the end of the story, however, war has come, and by 1916 many boys who had attended the school have been killed in battle. Mr. Chips, is in the chapel, and the roll is being called for the dead. And with each name, Mr. Chips pauses to reflect on the boy who was that name, that remaining spirit.

One of the first American casualties  of the war in Afghanistan was a young 20 year old ranger who was a member of the church I was privileged to serve as pastor at the time. The young man’s name was John Edmunds.

Today, the graves of American soldiers are scattered all over the world. Each lonely marker reminds us of the tremendous price that has been paid to preserve our freedom. We are in debt to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and to others who have and continues to serve our country in the cause of liberty and peace.

Memorial Day reminds us that freedom is not a once-for-all enterprise. In her book, “Democracy,” former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, states: “Colonial times were simpler, to be sure, but they were not wholly simple, and success in the American experiment was never preordained. Even with their manifold advantages, the Americans stumbled repeatedly along the path to a stable democracy.” Secretary Rice is reminded us that democracy or freedom is a slowly evolving process with many missteps along the way. Maybe we aren’t where we ought to be yet, but step by step the United States has and continues to come into being.

To be sure, our task remains to ever be seeking to perfect it. And I might add, not only as Americans, but as people of faith, to perfect it in the light of God’s purposes-love, justice, righteousness and peace. But freedom’s guardians must always be vigilant.

Observing Memorial Day doesn’t mean that we approve of every war nor does it mean that we believe that war itself is the solution to settling disputes. It isn’t! If ever, war has to be the very last resort.

God’s love always cuts across all distinctions and dispenses grace. It transforms all disagreements and turns enemies into brothers and sisters. Whatever role we take, we must not dissolve love and humility or we will betray that greater kingdom. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be  called the children of God (Matthew 5:9).

But observing Memorial Day does mean that we understand, pause and remember our debt to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for our freedom. It does mean that we express our appreciation to all others who have served and continue to serve in the various branches of our armed forces. And it does mean that we will find ways of giving our support to the Wounded Warriors and other veterans who have put there country above themselves.

I close with the late Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick’s prayerful words for this nation: “God of our fathers, we pray thee today for the nation that the fathers founded. We thank thee for the heritage that has come down to us, bought by other toil and other tears than ours…Steady our hands to grasp the torch of the nation’s righteousness, which they bequeathed to us. Make stable and wise our minds to understand the high entrustment, that the light of this people may not fail.”

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways. halbradyministries.com