On May 27th, our nation will rightly honor those who have laid down their lives for their country. Jesus commends such action (John 15:13), but ceremonies at times come close to blurring the line between true faith in Christ and civic religion. This day we honor the fallen, but we do so cautiously and with deliberate intention. How can you best recognize this important day? Here are a few options for reflection:
Connect with Veterans
Speak directly to veterans in your family, congregation or neighborhood. Remember, Memorial Day is not a day to thank or recognize them for their service. You may do that on Veterans’ Day. This is a day to recognize their friends who did not return home. If your relationship allows, take them out for coffee, and ask who they are thinking of this Memorial Day. It may allow them to share feelings and hurt that have been held a long time. You won’t need to provide answers…simply listen.
The veteran may express guilt for surviving, or guilt at not having done “enough”. Just listen. Then listen some more. Ask them if they know other veterans who are struggling with these emotions. They probably do.
Connect with Veterans’ Families and your Community
Think about ways you, your family or your congregation can best honor the fallen. Perhaps you can help to decorate a cemetery, or to recognize and support a Gold Star Family. Gold Star Families are those who have lost a loved one in combat. If you do find such a connection, look for ways that you can nurture that relationship not only now but throughout the coming year. Military families appreciate the care and compassion given on Memorial Day, but they truly are grateful for those who remember them year-round.
Reach out to your local American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars. Ask them for a list of activities they have planned for Memorial Day and how you can help. These organizations are a wonderful way for you and for your congregation to expand its reach into the community. If you are not a veteran, you may find that you still have an opportunity to be a part of this organization. If you are related to a military member, you may be able to join an auxiliary and have a unique opportunity to meet military families in a new way. And if not, you can still attend public functions and get to know the veterans in your community. You may find that these veterans and their families have struggles that you are uniquely equipped to address.
Share Your Faith
People of faith bring a unique gift to veterans that the United States Government cannot give. The government can provide bullets, beans, and hospital beds, disability funds and more. But they cannot give what they do not possess. They have not been entrusted with the forgiveness of sins. They do not possess the means of grace. The church has been entrusted with these gifts. If it’s possible, introduce the veteran to your pastor. Share your faith in Jesus Christ who is the only one who can bring lasting balm for hurting souls and is the only true answer for accusing memories of failure and death.
Speaking of Death…
You may find that veterans who struggle with PTSD and other traumatic issues have been affected by the prospect of and close contact with death. Memorial Day is a recognition of death’s presence in our lives. It cannot be glossed over with simple words. The blunt reality of death is on full display in cemeteries across the nation.
Much of the secular mental health care delivered to veterans is focused on the separation of the veteran from death. “You survived, and you are alive. You will live to a ripe old age.” Counselors and mental health experts have no defense against death except to postpone it and learn to live with it in our lives.
The beauty of the Gospel is that Christ has taken death by the throat and defeated it!
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15: 55-56
You have the opportunity to tell the story of Christ’s victory anew! Christ took our enemy and crushed death. He did not avoid it, postpone, or shy away from it…He faced death down and turned it into victory. This is the Gospel proclamation. We do not fear death, for Christ has travelled there, and returned…
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:20
Thank you for remembering and reaching out to veterans and their families in your community. May God bless you for sharing His love and helping to care for His people!
Rev. Michael Moreno is a Lutheran Family Service counselor serving the Norfolk, NE area. He is also a Navy Reserve Chaplain. Appointments or consultations may be made by calling 712.276.9000 or reaching out via our contact us form. Not from the Norfolk, NE area? Visit our mental health counseling page to see if there is an office near you.