War is a terrible human failing: it represents the absence of better minds, better hearts at the highest levels wreaking death on the defenseless and poorest people on all sides. The desire to serve and protect life, liberty and happiness for all, however, is a noble one. When conflict is thrust upon us, or chosen by those whom we cannot influence for the better, there have always been those who have tried their best to serve those highest and noblest ideals in the defense of their country.
Memorial Day was started by former slaves in Charleston, South Carolina to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 children where they marched, sang and celebrated.
In the scriptures, Tobit, a displaced Jew living in Babylon is accounted righteous before God because he remembers the dead and gives them proper burial. We remember, too, on this weekend: we grieve the needless deaths and the lives that might have been; we honor the sacrifices of those who died in service to their country’s best principles, whether in war or civilian service; we pause to celebrate the many freedoms we enjoy because men and women of distinction took action at critical moments on our behalf.
War is nothing to be proud of, and for needless losses across time we can only offer our prayers for a better way. For those who are gone, we lift our prayers to God in thanks for their lives and service and in hope of the time when “none shall hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” May they rest in peace, loved and missed. And may God’s people work for peace, without fear and without rest until that day shall come. –Rev. Kent Gilbert