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Memorial Day

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side – let Israel now say – if it had not been the Lord who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters…Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:1-5, 8)

     For many Americans, today will be filled with parades, picnics and revelry. It is surely a welcomed respite from the last 15 months. There is a collective sigh of relief that life as we knew it has returned to even a modicum of normal. But there is one thing that we must all do today – remember.

     As I thought about that, I have contemplated many things today. The first images that come to my mind are the Memorial Day parades through my little town. The men and women would parade in uniform. My earliest recollection was seeing someone at the head of the parade who had fought in the Spanish-American War, followed by a handful of men who fought in WWI, a veritable host of men and women who had served in WWII, and almost an equal number who had served in the Korean War.

     I remember, too, the few men in those early day, who had returned from Vietnam and would march. There was a sadness in their eyes that did not exist in any of the others. Of course, being a small boy, I couldn’t begin to comprehend what that sadness might be.

     Then, in 1968, my brother was drafted and sent to Vietnam. We only had a handful of television channels available back then, and almost all of them were filled with images of the horrors of war. It had just been a summer of unrest, with riots in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, four students killed at Kent State, and a growing anti-war sentiment across the country.

     Then a neighbor of my grandfather came home from Vietnam severely wounded – he would spend the rest of his days confined to a wheelchair. The cost of war was beginning to take root in my heart. For the first time, I understood the solemnity at the end of those parades as they concluded at the War Memorial Building in town in front of a monument erected to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the national freedoms we enjoy.

     There are a lifetime of remembrances that have come since those days, from a church family losing a son-in-law on one particular Memorial Day in the Iraq War to a son who recently was deployed to South Korea.

     And for all of these, I am grateful. I am grateful to all who have given their lives to protect the civil freedoms I have enjoyed all my life. I cannot begin to understand what every single gold-star family endures not just on this day, but every single day. I am grateful to the many men and women who voluntarily put their lives at risk to protect these same freedoms. To them is owed a tremendous debt.

     But most of all I am thankful. I am thankful that these men and women don’t actually fight for me, but for something far greater and grander. They fight to protect the Constitution of the United States of America. This is a document that begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

     And so I am led to mostly give thanks to God, for the very idea of freedom is rooted in the very character of God. So today, won’t you pause, be grateful for all that we have, give thanks to the countless who have given it all, and give thanks to a great God who helps us to enjoy true freedom through the Lord Jesus Christ.