None of my colleagues enjoys doing memorial services. Nevertheless, words cannot describe the honor we feel as we are invited into the lives of the fallen warriors and stand among their family and friends.
Chaplains have gathered with the faithful and grieving comrades-in-arms on dusty, hot and remote combat operations posts and forward operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, with fellow soldiers or Marines standing watch on the perimeter.
A similar honor is experienced when we offer God’s comfort to spouses and families in military chapels, in little country churches and in grand cathedrals in cities in all corners of the world, often with groups of veterans solemnly standing watch and paying tribute.
We have stood over the upturned sacred ground of family burial plots and among rows of headstones in our national cemeteries hearing the all too familiar sounds of volleys fired and taps played.
On every occasion, vows are made by family and friends, fellow warriors young and old, that the fallen comrade will never be forgotten; that his or her service and sacrifice, and the service and sacrifice of the family, will be treasured and preserved in memoriam.
Our nation sets aside a time to honor those holy promises made to the fallen and their families; promises made personally and on behalf of every citizen. We call it Memorial Day.
It is a day to remember those fresh faces or perhaps the faces of those once-young warriors who completed the race long after the guns had silenced. It is a day to pause and consider the price of freedom and the cost of living in a country free of tyranny and fear, and to remember those who paid that price.
The people of faith come to this time with a certain sense of solemnity as we consider the eternal implications of these acts of service and sacrifice. First is our belief in the preciousness of life – of this life’s fragility and fleetingness – and in the eternal life to come.
People of faith also have a particular understanding of what it means to be called in service to others. We continuously count the cost of freeing the oppressed, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and advocating for victims of injustice.
Communities of faith and warriors alike know that, with God’s help, it is up to us to make a difference. Therefore, we intentionally honor and celebrate those lives as blessings of God and inspirations for us all.
As Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian scriptures declared, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:3)
On this Memorial Day, let us all take up the vow made at every fallen warrior’s memorial service and graveside and remember the acts of selfless service and the lives of the men and women who committed the ardor of their youth to preserve our freedom.
As we remember, let those memories inspire us to give thanks to God for the privilege of witnessing such noble acts in our lifetime and recommit ourselves to service to God, our nation and our communities. That will be the best and most lasting tribute.