Memorial Day, originally known a Decoration Day, was established following the Civil War, but was not an official federal holiday until 1971. It was called decoration day because in towns across America, graves were decorated with flower and prayers were said. About 620,000 died in the Civil War. For some perspective, the population of America at the time was about 31 million people. That is about ten times smaller than we are now. To proportionately translate into a number reflecting today’s population, the dead would total about 6.2 million. Some perspective here. That 6.2 million number is equal to the combined populations of Washington D.C., Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, North and South Dakota, Delaware, and Montana. Seven states and the Nations capital dead in a few short years. It’s understandable how a national time of remembrance sprang up organically across the country. When two percent of a population dies, it is likely that it touches nearly everyone. Now stop to consider that recent evidence and methodology point to the number of civil war dead being closer to 850,000 deaths. As a percentage of total troops, in the Civil War, nearly 20% of the soldiers died. That is something like a one in five chance of death. Of course there was a time of remembrance for this. Of course there have been other wars, and more Americans dead, but the Civil War demonstrates best what a national tragedy a war is.
I imagine that some reading this will be pacifists. Some reading this will be ‘just war’ advocates like myself. There will be democrats and republicans, independents, libertarians, and people who don’t really care about politics at all. There will be those who want to glorify the American soldier as the epitome of bravery and courage, but I am not one of them. There are those who will be tempted to vilify American soldiers, and I am not one of them either. Some will claim that any remembrance of such a day by the church is nearly blasphemy while others will say that not remembering a day such as this is the same. The point that I am trying to get at here is that Memorial Day, no matter your politics or views on war, is not a time for politics, but a time for remembrance. A time for prayers. It is a time to remember the dead who have served in the military, no matter our feelings. A time to remember soldiers. A time to remember men and women whose lives were cut short by violence.
Today we are at a disconnect with the military. When you think about how few are actually in the military now, many of us do not have a personal connection to anyone that serves and few of us have a personal stake, let alone any real understanding, of what is actually occurring. During WW II however, about 12% of the population served. If 12% of our family, our friends, our churches, were serving, we would indeed have a vested interest in this. If 12% of everyone that we knew was facing death on a daily basis, we would have a much better understanding of the impact that the deaths in war have. We would better understand the cost. We don’t though. Well, most of us do not. If you are reading this and have lost loves ones serving their country, you understand. I am sorry that you have to.
Much like the inscription at the tomb of the unknowns, most soldiers are nameless to us. Many will have friends and family who have served. To many will have friends and family who have died, but the vast majority of soldiers are nameless and faceless to us. We don’t understand and I fear that we all to often do not try to. It’s to much for us to really understand the sheer number of soldiers that have died in service, so I am going to invite you to just understand one.
Imagine please that this is your son or daughter. A husband or a wife. A mother, a father, a sister, or brother. Imagine it because it was to someone. Imagine it because they deserve our empathy and prayers everyday, but the least that we can do i give it on one day. Imagine not because it is the casket of a perfect soldier, but because it i the casket of a good man or woman no longer here. Imagine it and pray that the pain that those who have lost loved one is lessened even if the cost is you taking some of it on. Imagine it because every life lost to war is tragic. Imagine it because it is only when we understand the cost can we properly decide that someone must pay the price. Imagine it because you understand the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and because you understand His words to those who were with him about the greater love of laying down your life for the life of your friend. Imagine it because when we read those words we think them grand and noble, but they are still just words to most of us. Imagine it so that we can understand that those words in the scripture were not fancy poetry or a suggestion but a way of life that is demonstrated each time a life is sacrificed for another. Imagine with me so that we might in some small way understand the tragedy of so many families and communities in the country. Imagine it so that, God forbid that the circumstance should arise, that we might live out the words of Christ. “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”