“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
I’ll begin by saying "Thank you" to all whom we remember and honor today.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who fought and died for their country. They fought and died for what their country stands for--freedom and justice for all people. They answered the call to service. Their answer to that call was witness to their commitment to a noble cause. In service to that call, they sacrificed their lives. They are part of the great cloud of witnesses we honor and remember today.
Remembering, or remembrance, in the Bible is what forms identity and determines conduct of the people of Israel and the early church. When the people of Israel remembered how they were freed from slavery in Egypt and the God who gave them their freedom, they remembered who they were and whose they were. They remembered God is a God who loves righteousness and justice. When they remembered, they knew God expected them to treat one another and the stranger with righteousness and justice, kindness and mercy.
The early church was built on remembering Jesus Christ--his life, death and resurrection. Every Sunday was (and is) a memorial day in which all that God has done for the church and the world in Jesus Christ is remembered. This remembering is how God reminds us who we are and whose we are. Our remembrance causes us to witness to Jesus Christ in the world and follow his teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In like manner, when we remember our fallen brothers and sisters, we remember who we are and whose we are. We honor their memory when we honor the cause for which they fought and died--the principles upon which our country was founded, namely freedom and justice for all people. We honor their memory when we work for justice and peace in the world; when we become a non-violent and peaceful people who lives justly with kindness and mercy for all.
We honor their memory when live in such a way that violence and war will be prevented and eventually abolished from the face of the earth. We have a responsibility to our fallen brothers and sisters, a responsibility that calls us to be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and often take for granted. One of the responsibilities of freedom is to love justice by seeing to it that all people are treated justly. To work for justice and honor their memory is to be advocates for peace and non-violence.
In May 1995 I was in Washington DC over Memorial Day weekend for a meeting. Because I had been asked to give the address for the annual Memorial Day ceremonies in the small town I was living in at the time, I visited the Vietnam Memorial. While there I had the good fortune to stumble upon the Memorial Day Writers Festival. It is an annual gathering of veterans who share stories and poetry with one another and the public. I visited several tents and listened in on many stories and poems. I walked over to a Marine who had just finished reading some of his poetry. I introduced myself to him and thanked him for his words and his witness and his courage. Then I asked him if he could give me any advice about what I could say to the people of my small Minnesota town on Memorial Day. He told me the one thing that should be said :
“The greatest honor and witness and memorial we can give to our fallen brothers and sisters would be to live our lives in such a way that war will never again be an option for nations to resolve their conflicts. The greatest honor we can give to their memory would be to give our children a world in which justice and peace are honored and war is no more; the greatest memorial we can build is a world in which young men and women will never again have to suffer and die on battlefields.”
That is the word I want to leave you with this morning. Let us be a people who love justice and make peace for our children and grandchildren.