Last Sunday, Memorial Day, I was asked to speak at my church about the nature of sacrifice. I spent about 10 minutes, not in the usual jingoistic talk about how great America is (it is pretty great, despite all its blemishes!) but really felt called to tie the sacrifice of my fellow warriors to a higher sacrifice made for all humanity. Below is the text that I wrote out to help me organize my thoughts. The actual talk veered slightly, but the text is close enough to what I said to make no real difference. Enjoy…
Originally known as Decoration Day, a day set aside soon after the War Between the States to honor the fallen and tend their graves and memorials. The War left deep and bitter wounds in our nation. There had long been a debate, since our very founding, between the Jeffersonian ideals of limited Federal power and agrarian economic models and Hamiltonian strong Federal power and industrial/trade economic models. Those issues were largely settled through trial by combat. The Federalism, corporatism and welfarism we know today stems from the de facto changes made to our national psych by the War.
But the coming back together into a national identity whereby we tend to refer to ourselves as Americans vs. Alabamians or Californians took time. As I said, those wounds were deep and bitter. Memorial Day was a way for that healing to begin to take place.
A great example of this is Winston County in Alabama. The Northwest portion of Alabama had no great love for slavery or succession. At a meeting at Looney’s Tavern, shortly after Alabama seceded from the Union; it was decided by the residents of the county to secede from the State. All the residents wanted, from both sides, was to be left alone. Of course, this didn’t happen. Confederate press gangs swept through the county, forcing young men into the Confederate Army. Many fled North, joining the 1st Alabama Cavalry, U.S. and fought for the North. The town’s memorial reflects the fact of this house divided.
Humanity, as a whole, also lives in a house divided, those who know Christ and those who don’t. Christ opened the way for the reconciliation with His act on the cross. But many will not let go of their bitter wounds. After a while, they take comfort in them, perhaps finding a feeling of self-justification or victimhood. Or they are simply scared of stepping out into the unknown.
It has always been this way. Read Isaiah 14 for a description of how Lucifer divided the angelic host, or, for a more poetic image, read Milton’s Paradise Lost, book 6, starting around line 200. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all answer the call of our true Nation, the Kingdom of God, and take our place, humble or great, in His Army. There are things He is asking of you, things He wants you to do or ways He wants you to grow that are vital and sacrificial.
And, like the heroes who lay down their tomorrow’s at the altar of Liberty, so a temporary, temporal nation can continue to live free, those sacrifices we make for Christ are things He remembers. We get a glimpse of that at 2 places in Revelation, when the spirits of the martyrs cry to God for His just vengeance from beneath the Alter of God and again when he awards us our crowns and new names and adopts us as His sons and daughters.
So, this Memorial Day, I hope you take the time to visit a memorial or a cemetery. Pluck a few weeds or pick up some trash. Remember those who gave up a lifetimes worth of dreams so you have the, admittedly dwindling, rights that you exercise each day. But, don’t forget where your citizenship truly lies, or that that nation continues in a ceaseless, ageless war against evil for the eternal souls of men. Or that many have fallen in that war and that you have a place, a vital place, in those battles. How will you serve Him today?