Memorial Day, May 27, 2018
Jonah 3:10—4:4, 11, Psalm 140, 1 Corinthians 5:20-26, John 11:17-27
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are here today, brothers and sisters to give thanks to God for those who give their lives in service to their country. Unlike Veteran’s Day, today is a day to give thanks specifically for those who have died. Their bodies lie in the ground here, across this nation, and across the world, in Europe and in Asia, in all the places where they went to serve, to fight, and to die. Some of the men and women we remember here today were known to us; others are strangers. But all of them gave much for the service of their country, and it is right and proper to remember that.
Some of them joined the Armed Forces to do just that. They felt called to serve and risk their lives for the greater good. Others were drafted, and went because our country said they had to. Still others joined because it was good pay, or to see the world, or because it was that or jail. Some of them served in just and righteous wars which had to be fought to defend the world from evil. Some of them served in conflicts which were neither noble nor necessary. But whatever caused them to join up, and whether the war they served in was good or bad, they served on our behalf. They served in defense of our nation, and to accomplish the political and military goals we as a people set for them. AS we remember their service, and their sacrifices, we remember this: we, here, today, you and I, we are the ones who elected the leaders and voted for the policies which required the sacrifice of their lives. They did not go to war because it was inevitable; they went because we sent them. We made the decisions that led to their service and death. That is a heavy responsibility borne by every member of a free nation.
Whether they were good people or bad, whether they served in a necessary war or a pointless one, whether they died on the battlefield or came home and died of old age, there’s one other thing we need to remember: they are in God’s hands, now, and our God is a God of resurrection. Being a Christian means that death is not the end of the story, because Christ Jesus has destroyed the power of death. The God who created this world, who created each one of us, who knew all those who have served and died from their mothers’ wombs to their graves, is at work still. Their bodies lie in the ground, but when Christ comes again all the graves will open and they and all the dead will come forth from their tombs as Jesus did on Easter. ON that day, all the living and the dead will be judged. ON that day, death will be no more. On that day, all that is war and violence and evil will cease. On that day, swords will be beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks, and military service will no longer be necessary. On that day, there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and everything will be transformed and made new, clean and whole and according to God’s will.
We don’t live yet in that good and gracious world to come, but we yearn for it. We yearn for it because we miss our loved ones who have gone before us, and because we see the pain and misery in this life. We see the times when it is necessary that some fight and die so that others may live in peace. We see the times when we and others make stupid choices and send people out to fight and die senselessly. WE see all the places where this world is not as it ought to be, all the places where hate and fear and violence and sin and death rule. And we long for the day when the dead shall arise, and death itself will be defeated, and no one shall suffer and die.
On that day, that great day when God’s will is truly done on this earth, we may be surprised by who all we see there. The book of Jonah reminds us that our enemies are not God’s enemies. Nineveh was a great enemy of Israel; they had done many terrible things to Israel. That was why Jonah wanted God to destroy them, instead of forgiving them. But all people, no matter who they are, were created by God in God’s image. God cares for all people—those who worship him and those who do not; those who do what is pleasing in God’s eyes and those who sin. And God is working to call all people to repentance, to call all people away from evil and sin and death. All people—and that includes not only us but also our enemies. On that day when Christ comes again, and the dead are raised, and all the living and the dead are judged, there will be people of every land and nation and tribe and race. And in that kingdom where God’s will is done, there will be peace instead of violence, love instead of hate, understanding instead of fear.
We wait for that day with hope. We wait for the day we see our loved ones again and all evil and sin and death are destroyed forever. We wait for the day when all those who have sacrificed for their country are given the reward they deserve. We wait with hope, knowing that a new and better day is coming. But while we wait, we have responsibilities here on earth. We are called to live according to God’s will. We are called to work for peace and justice and mercy in our own households, and across the world. We are called to serve when there is just cause, but also to speak out when a conflict is not just. As citizens in a democracy, we are called to use our political responsibilities thoughtfully and prayerfully, remembering that even our enemies are made in the image of God.
And always, always, we look forward to that great and glorious day, when wars will cease and Christ will come again, and we shall see him face to face.