Sunday, May 26, 2002

John 15:13

No greater love has man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.

Here in the States, it is Memorial Day weekend, where we collectively take note of our "honored dead." The specifics of how the day originated are in some minor dispute, but the story I like best involves freed slaves decorating a Union cemetery in Charleston. Others involve widows of Confederate soldiers taking care of the graves of Federal and Confederate soldiers. All agree that it came out of remembrances for the Civil War. (For some of my take on that war's lasting hold on the soul of the nation, see here.)

A visitor to America could be forgiven in most years for not noticing any of this, for thinking it just a "bank holiday" in the English sense. Between the "great overstock selections" that mysteriously appear at car dealerships across the nation, or the "bargains that won't last" on electronics, it is easy to miss the solemn nature of the day. Most other Federal holidays have in their nature at least some whimsical quality. Even July 4, the official--if dubious--birthday of the country, has its fireworks embedded in its roots, as it was John Adams himself who first called for them in celebration of the day. Veterans Day ("Armistice Day" to those of a certain vintage, or British and Canadian backgrounds), of course, is equally solemn. More so, in fact, inasmuch as it has resisted the 3-day weekend trend of other holidays, but it celebrates the living as well.

Memorial Day is different. It uniquely honors the dead. As we have many more dead to honor this year than last, and as more are still to come, before this War is over, consider today--Trinity Sunday, the day we honor the God who lay down His own life for His friends--the words of President Lincoln:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this
continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the
proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in
a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great
battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their
lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and
proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot
dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.
The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated
it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will
little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never
forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be
dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here
have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here
dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these
honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this
nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that
government of the people, by the people, for the people shall
not perish from the earth.


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