Today is Memorial Day, the day set aside to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in military service to the United States.
On the waterfront of my town there is a war memorial like so many thousands of others in towns across America. Lining the walkway are memorial stone plaques for various residents who served in the military. One plaque stands out to me so vividly among the rest. It lists multiple members of one family who trace a chain of military service back to the Revolutionary war. It is families like this one upon which today is grounded.
This morning my wife and I joined a couple hundred other residents of our Maine town in marking the observation of today with the annual parade and VFW honor guard ceremony. Now our town is small in population so a parade for us is basically the entire fleet of police, fire and rescue vehicles, the boy and girl scout troops and a combined middle and high school band of a few dozen kids. Toss in a couple of community groups marching as well and all together it’s a 10 minute affair start to finish. For some it would be but a short blink during the day only our town does something different.
We stop the parade in the middle of it and hold a VFW honor ceremony. The ceremony is easily 5 times as long as the parade itself would be, but it’s part of our community tradition. In the midst of this tradition is one common theme that was not lost on me this morning; that of faith. In nearly every part of the ceremony was either a direct of indirect reference to God and faith.
Be it the pledge of allegiance led by the girl scouts, the flag folding demonstration and explanation of what each fold stand for from the boy scouts, the prayers led by the chaplain of the local VFW unit or the formal invocation prayer lead by a local church pastor, the observance of faith was woven across the event. What is it about events like this morning to unite us all? This morning all up and down main street of my small town heads were bowed and hats were removed for prayer and remembrance. Even people who do not attend church or would classify themselves as being particularly religious stood silently and with heads bowed. What unites us is so much bigger and better than what divides us.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. John 15:12-14 (New King James Version)
Today we honor those who died for that unity. Today is also a day of hope. It is a day to call us as Christians to service. If people in a small town can take time and pause on a late spring day in the cold morning wind to bow heads and pray we have hope, we have promise, we have opportunity.
An opportunity to open a dialogue over what our faith means to us and why we observe it everyday, not just during a holiday parade. An opportunity to share with them that Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for each of us so that we all might gain an eternal freedom. To show them that God’s army here on this earth is not one to fear and does not come bearing a message of division and dislike, but rather one of unconditional love and selfless service to others.
It is also an opportunity to pray. To follow in the footsteps of people such as George Washington who knelt in the snows of Valley Forge to pray for his men and a new nation being birthed. To pray just as hundreds and thousands of men and women in service have prayed in foxholes and trenches and on beaches of foreign counties. To pray as has been done in the jungles of Asia and the hot sands of the Middle East. To pray for the world around us and for those close to us.
To be reminded that while I am free to pray in public on the main street of my town there are Christians around the world who must still pray in secret. And to remember that the line of military service continues for many families and we pray each returns home to their own small hometown or city safely.
Friends on days like to today we look back in gratitude, awe and honor yet we must not forget to look forward with hope and determination.