the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Memorial Day, (originally “Decoration Day”) is an American holiday commemorating U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. The holiday was first enacted to honor Union soldiers of the War Between The States but after WWI, it was changed to honor Americans who have died in all wars. Now days, the holiday is an occasion for general remembrance with people visiting the graves of their deceased relatives whether they were military personnel or not.
Over the past seven years I have had the privilege of participating in the annual Memorial Day observance at the Idaho State Veterans Home in Lewiston. Every year, the home hosts a special memorial celebration in honor of our fallen troops, complete with pipe and drum performances, high school choirs and local and state dignitaries. It is an opportunity to honor our veterans – and to pray for the safety of our active duty personnel.
Some Christians believe war is always wrong and military service is never an option for a disciple of Jesus. Yet, when John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness, Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?” He said to them, “Don't take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:14). John did not tell them to find a new career he simply told them to be good soldiers and good neighbors. Later, Jesus encountered a Roman centurion in Capernaum who pleaded with him on behalf of his dying servant. Not only did Jesus heal the servant he commended the Centurion's faith, declaring, “I assure you: I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith!” (Matthew 8:10), this based upon the Roman officer's understanding of authority and a workable chain of command as it applied to Christ's submission to the Father. Again, Jesus did not suggest the Centurion find another line of work.
Not long ago I conducted a funeral service for a man who had enlisted in the Marine Corps as a 17-year-old near the end of World War II and served in the Pacific theater with the first division as a sniper and Scout. He encountered things no teenager should have to endure and carried the pain of his battlefield experience for decades. By God's grace I had opportunity to minister to this man for several years, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and helping him make sense of his war. Not once did I tell him he had made a mistake in joining the armed forces; I didn't believe he had. Instead, I told him his first-class performance on the field of battle was praiseworthy and an example of self-sacrifice worthy of emulation. Indeed, I reminded him that his willingness to lay his life on the line for his comrades and his country was evidence of the image of God present in all mankind.
Exodus 15:3 says, The LORD is a warrior; Yahweh is His name and those who serve in the ranks of the armed forces image this aspect of the Almighty to one degree or another. I'm not suggesting military service saves your soul nor am I saying a stint in the armed forces perfectly exhibits this feature of Yahweh's character. I am saying the courage and skill necessary to effectively wage war is a characteristic man shares with his Creator. When that dimension is developed and used properly it is worthy of commendation.
There is room within the Church for different opinions concerning what constitutes just war or the option of serving in the armed forces. Nevertheless there are times we should set our differences aside in order to present a unified voice to the world. There are times we should honor our victorious dead and show Christ's compassion to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Memorial Day is such a time.