Yesterday our church met for the first time in a couple of months, for a drive-in service. The parking lot was arranged, six feet between cars, facing a slope on which those leading the service could be seen by all. Kiddos on the roofs of vans or pick-up trucks, individuals on top of cars, couples in their all-windows-open seats—all gathered to sing, pray and hear the Word of God preached. A very sweet time of distant joyful greetings, seeing much-loved faces not mediated by screens. While some were missing, I think attendance was about what it is on any Sunday.
Behind that slope is a cemetery—the one where our bodies may someday lie for a time—and many headstones shared the limelight with waving American flags: a touching reminder that someone had been there, placing those flags to honor folk who had served, and caring for those who grieve. On our drive home, the hospital’s flag was at half-mast, and I asked “Why?”
When I was a child, Memorial Day was a holiday of no school, a parade, and a barbeque. I remember asking my dad more than once the “Why?” of Memorial Day, to clarify the differences between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, and to tell stories of The War. He did not fight, but served as the radio voice of the Merchant Marine, announcing and singing for broadcasts from Catalina Island, off Southern California. His memories were fresh, steeped in years. So I learned the rage, the fear, the tensions, the losses of that season through his eyes. I also saw his shame at not fighting, not suffering as much as others, though he had left young wife and home and was fully part of the war effort. And he had lost friends.
Today I woke with a fresh remembrance of our own time, and of my friends. A few years ago, a friend from high school did me the great honor of sending me his journal from years in Vietnam—full of horror and loss and pain. He, seriously injured, was the only one of his unit to survive, and has had sorrows and loss and nightmares to fill a life. Another friend from high school focuses his energies on helping those with enduring PTSD from Vietnam, Iraq, the Gulf, Afghanistan—other places of deeply scarring violence. I think of another dear friend whose service as a Ranger in the Gulf has left compromised health and deep sorrows. And a younger friend whose service as a medic in Afghanistan shapes his current life in medicine—but with haunting private memories. And a young woman friend who daily remembers watching, from her gunner’s turret, the tank where she was gunner the day before blown up with her best friend in her seat. Their trade had been ordered that day—and the grief doesn’t go away. And there are more. Blessedly, each of these know the comfort of a present Lord and Savior.
So as we note this day—for David and me the day we traditionally plant our garden—I am praying for my dear brothers and sisters who have given so much with so little thanks or relief. As we plant dead-looking little seeds, in hope of a crop, I’ll pray in hope of the resurrection. When facing his own tortured death in my place, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:24-26) Today I pray for my friends that they’ll see in their service eternal meaning, the One in whose sufferings they share, and with that have both comfort and hope. Thank you.