I saw something floating around Facebook this morning about the “real meaning of Memorial Day” and it kind of got me thinking. For better or worse, I think Americans have a tendency to lump their Memorial Day, 4th of July and Veterans Day celebrations together. On the one hand, I think it’s great that the country takes three opportunities a year to exhibit a sense of patriotism and unity (one can only hope that this counteracts the political divisions we experience at other points throughout the year!). On the other hand, I think there is something to be said about needing to remember to reflect on the individual meaning of each holiday.
The Facebook post was kind of snarking on the way that Americans have a tendency to treat Memorial Day and Veterans Day like the same holiday. The author essentially asked the question, “What does it say when we honor the living on a day when we are supposed to be honoring the dead?” (The article can be found here) And while I’m not sure I totally agree with what the author was saying (I would feel my nerve just NOT acknowledging active servicemen and women on Memorial Day – they are making the same sacrifices simply by serving), it did get me thinking.
This morning I started reflecting on the veterans who I have had the honor of burying throughout my career. I have to be honest – I do a lot of funerals and rarely get emotional during the service or burial. It doesn’t matter how well I knew the person or whether or not I cried in the hospice waiting room with family while they were dying – the day of the funeral I have a job to do and I put my game face on.
Except when it comes to veterans.
For some reason, veteran funerals just get me. To stand at the door of a hearse while a flag-covered casket is taken out is an absolute honor. To say “Amen” at the end of the commendation and make a subtle motion to the honor guard as they begin “Taps” is something I feel so inadequately equipped to do, yet do with pride. Standing in a suit and clerical collar, I always have a difficult time fighting back tears as I watch family members be presented the American flag.
I have never buried someone who does while in the line of duty – I can only imagine the emotions that are attached to that. But even presiding over the funerals of veterans gets me thinking about the sacrifices that all military men and women make.
Today I pray for all those who lost their lives in the line of duty. Who selflessly laid down their lives so that others wouldn’t have to. Who hugged their loved ones goodbye and never experienced the emotional homecoming they so deserved. Whose last moments on earth were likely full of fear and chaos. I pray for their families and their friends, for the loss of what could have been.
Tonight I am grateful for the reminder of what humble and selfless service truly is. And as I wind down my celebration and plan out my week at work, I also pray that my life and ministry can be a living expression of thanks and gratitude.
Happy Memorial Day, my friends.
To those who lost their lives in the line of duty – I pray my life is worthy of the sacrifice you made.