Monday, May 30, 2016

Worth Taking Time to Remember

Even though war has been part of human history virtually from the start, no one in their right mind enjoys war, even the thought of it. (With the possible exception of defense contractors.) The old John Wayne movies of the 1940’s made combat seem like a great experience, a wonderful way for bonding and building camaraderie with fellow soldiers. But the movies lied.

As a boy, I remember my father awakening some nights, crying out as if terrified of something. Then he would return to sleep, never to discuss those episodes. Either he forgot his nightmares or chose to avoid talking about them. He also never mentioned his wartime experiences. As an officer in infantry and armored divisions of the Army, Dad saw war firsthand in World War II, in the Battle of the Bulge as well as in northern Africa. He was proud of his military service, but offered no stories about the “glories” of war.

So each Memorial Day I honor the courageous service of my father, along with many thousands of others who answered the call of duty to fight against tyranny, oppression and evil. Some, like Dad, were fortunate to return alive. Others were not. When I was in high school the conflict in Vietnam was escalating; while I was in college it grew into a full-scale, poorly conceived war that took thousands of lives, as Washington, D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial attests.

I’m thankful I was never called to serve, but admire everyone who did. In one way or another, they each paid a considerable price to protect America. In recent years, our military men and women have been serving in totally different environments, fighting on sand rather than rice paddies. Often they have returned home maimed physically, psychologically and emotionally. They deserve our thanks – and our assistance as they strive to rebuild their lives as civilians. I fear too many of them are not receiving nearly as much help as they require.

So I don’t see Memorial Day as a time for glorifying warfare or celebrating who won the battles and who lost. War, no matter how we look at it, is tragic. But that’s no excuse for not recognizing noble and heroic service.

The Scriptures emphasize the need for memorials to offset short memories. We see the Israelites being exhorted to remember the past – its pain, sorrows and failures. By establishing memorials, God’s people would be inspired to become more faithful, more devoted to Him, and less inclined to nurture the human weaknesses that lead to senseless wars.

After freeing the people of Israel from four centuries of slavery in Egypt, God commanded that in a variety of ways they would establish “a memorial for the Israelites before the Lord” (Exodus 30:16), so they would never forget what He had done to liberate them from oppression.

Festive observances also were created for that purpose. “Also at your times of rejoicing – your appointed feasts, New Moon festivals – you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God” (Numbers 10:10).

After assuming leadership of the Israelites after Moses’ death, Joshua saw the importance of causing the people to remember the past – its tragedies and triumphs – and not allow memories to fade with the passage of years. “…Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder…to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them… These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6-7).

The Christian sacrament of communion also serves as a memorial. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus and His followers observed the Passover meal in which He distributed the elements to represent the sacrifice He was about to undertake. And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).

Memorials and memorial observances serve as antidote for our attention deficit disordered lifestyles, in which it can truly be said of us, “How quickly they forget.”

So I hope this Memorial Day you will pause to remember those who paid so dearly in the fields of combat – and also the One who made the ultimate sacrifice not only for this life but also for the life to come.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Very well written. May we ever remember both those whose lives were given in service for our nation and those family members whose lives were and are impacted forever but those sacrifices.