On this weekend we remember all those men and women military of our country who died in the course of combat: in declared war, in “police actions,” in peace-keeping efforts (and, honestly, also those first responders who have given their lives for the sake of others). As President Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg, they gave the last full measure of devotion to our country—therefore, to us.
In this light, I want to quote for you the 1st verse of the British hymn “I Vow To Thee, My Country” (it’s sung to the tune we use for our Easter hymn (#423) “Three Days”—
I vow to thee, my country, all earthy things above
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
Verse 2 focuses on the same spirit of devotion, but this time to the New Jerusalem and the Lamb of God.
This is the spirit narrated by JRR Tolkien at the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo tells Sam that he, Frodo, cannot remain in the Shire:
“I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.”
So what’s my point? I suppose it’s two things—I’m convinced that ever since my generation (the “Baby Boomers”) we have, by and large, lost the necessity and value and reality of sacrifice—not 100% percent, perhaps, but we are a nation today that would be very reluctant to sing the hymn or embrace the thought of the excerpts I’ve offered above.
I’m convinced, as well, that there can be no greater expression of those sentiments than the sacrificial offering of the Son of God for us. Yes, His Resurrection is the vindication of His self-offering. But it doesn’t negate the reality of the offering itself. And why should He? After all, we were God’s enemies when Jesus came to and for us (Romans 5:6-11)!
On this Memorial Day weekend, we should remember. But we should also re-dedicate, re-consecrate, re-present ourselves for the sake of healing, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy. If we are not also committed to self-sacrifice, who will remember us, and will there be a saved world worth remembering? This is NOT about destruction of the “enemy,” in a military sense, but it is all about defense of the defenseless and of putting others’ needs before our desires: in our country and in the world.
Let’s remember—and let’s live.