Again on this Memorial Day, thoughts turn to the countless thousands of Americans through the years who have lost their lives defending our nation and paying the highest possible price for the freedom we enjoy – even with its flaws. We also think of the flag that represents our country, the banner that has flown over many of those who suffered death or grave injury to protect many of us who have never seen a real battlefield.
Recently I saw a video of how patriotic Americans quashed a planned flag-burning by students staging a protest at a prominent university in the South. Not only was the intended igniting of the American flag averted, but a soldier in uniform also shamed one of the protestors, shouting at him, “My brother died (in battle) for you!”
I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a loved one’s life taken on the field of battle. My father was wounded twice during World War II, but returned home after the war alive and intact. If he hadn’t, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog post today. A friend of mine was not as fortunate – he never knew his biological father, who died during a battle in that war. My friend’s pain of loss may have dulled, but has never disappeared.
So as we pause for this annual commemoration, I respect the right of people to protest how our country is being run. However, I believe that to burn or desecrate the flag in any way is a heinous act of disrespect – not only to the nation it represents, but also to the lives that were cut short in preserving that right to express protests.
Like most people, I wish there was no war. I wish there had never been any wars. In any form, war seems so senseless, but wishful thinking has yet to make war go away.
So it seems the prudent, compassionate strategy is to strive for peace – praying for it, seeking non-violent resolutions to conflicts, and hoping the loss of lives due to war in the future will be minimal. At the same time, it’s also fitting to recognize and honor the lives of those many who bravely and nobly sacrificed themselves so that people like you and me could live, work, play, and yes, even protest.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” This applies to every soldier and sailor, male and female, that has not returned from a field of battle, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East. And of course, Jesus was also referring to Himself, as He prepared to singlehandedly engage in the greatest war of all, the war against sin and the powers of evil.
His “battlefield” was unique, a cross atop a lonely hill that seemed so stark and obscure at the time. Two thousand years later that cross, that hill, and that life are hardly obscure or forgotten. This event has become the linchpin that serves to link – and divide – all of humanity today. The battle against sin continues, but the war has been won once and for all. Jesus declared such when He said just before breathing His last, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
So it seems fitting that as we honor and memorialize the countless American lives that have been lost from the Revolutionary War to the present, it would be proper also to ponder the death of the one called the “King of kings.” We should call to remembrance the Christian “soldiers” who have defended the faith all around the world, including missionaries and martyrs who have stood firm in the face of persecution and oppression.