Author Topic: Memorial Day, Then and Now  (Read 539 times)

J. Thomas Shelley

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Memorial Day, Then and Now
« on: May 27, 2019, 09:28:16 AM »
http://www.usmemorialday.org/Speeches/Other/shelley1999.htm

On Memorial Day of last year I found myself doing something which I had never done before; indeed, something which at one time I could not even have conceived of doing: conducting a service of worship.

Memorial Day has been largely abandoned to Veteran’s groups conducting military services in a few larger cemeteries. The response of the Church has been either to ignore the day altogether, or to so drape it in red, white, and blue that the nation--and not the Triune God--becomes the object of devotion and worship. It was probably because of the excesses of the latter that I found myself among the former--among those who ignored the day.

But years of passing by a cemetery on the way to worship time and again have had a profound effect upon me. “I believe in...the communion of saints”, always (to use Luther’s phrase) “most certainly true” has become more than just words in a Creed; but a constant, discernible presence of the faithful departed of every age.

So also have years of coming increasingly frequently to the Lord’s table had a profound effect upon me. The communion of saints is not found in a cemetery, but in, with, and under the Presence of the Living Christ; who is Himself present in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. We meet and greet the saints at the table of their Lord.

Yet it was reading a children’s book on the patriotic holidays that stirred me to action; for it was only then that I discovered that in the years just following the Civil War the day was observed by holding church services (which were filled) and not by going to stores (which were closed). Now--as with so many customs of our culture--Memorial Day’s observance has been almost entirely reversed. And in that reversal the day’s original and highest meaning has been lost.

So it was that on Memorial Day of 1998 a small congregation assembled to hear the Word and share the Supper and to enter the hallowed ground of
the cemetery for concluding prayers by a Civil War veteran’s grave.

Much to my surprise, it was one of the most moving services of the year. I was at first struck that the first folks to arrive were some of our oldest and very faithful women, some of whom began to attend to the Altar, even though, for some, it was not “their month.”

The Altar, since the earliest days of Christianity, has most often been constructed to resemble a sarcophagus, that is, an above ground burial vault. In the first centuries, services were held on the vaults of martyrs. The attention given to the Altar seemed very much like the attention given to the Civil War casualties’ graves in Columbus, Mississippi, that began the Memorial Day customs of “decorating” the monuments of the fallen; and, on a yet deeper level, the faithful love shown by the women of the disciples who “came to the tomb early...”

Touching, too, was to see our Bill Clark and his family seated in a front pew. Bill--a Pennsylvania National Guardsman--had come in uniform.

But most touching of all was to watch the Clark family--even long after the service had concluded--visit each monument in both the old and new cemeteries that had been decorated with a miniature flag by the York County Veteran’s Council .

Willie and Jennie Clark will remember that this day is set aside for more than picnicking, fireworks, and shopping at Wal-Mart.

It is so blessed to obey God’s command to teach our children diligently--to instruct them in the meaning of each feast that we keep. For God spoke through Moses concerning the Passover: This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord, throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever...And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of Lord’s
passover”

And God later spoke through St. Paul concerning the greater Passover and the greater Deliverer:

    Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.
    Therefore let us keep the feast.


As we keep the memorial of our Passover--our passing from Death to Life through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ--as we keep the feast, we are assured of the Presence of the Risen Christ. And we are doubly assured of His presence as we instruct our children on the feast; for then His final Beatitude is given to us:

    Make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe
    all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you
    always, even to the end of time.


So let us keep the feast--hallow the day-- and share the blessing! This holy Easter day; this holy Eastertide; this Memorial Day.

Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2019, 09:37:12 AM »
Hard to believe that two decades have passed since I wrote that for the parish newsletter, describing the first of 17 years of that Memorial Day service.

Establishing that service--the attendance at which often rivaled and sometimes exceeded that of the Sunday preceding--ranks near the top of my "accomplishments" during the quarter century in Das Siebenthal.   

Leaving it behind was one of the harder partings as well.

I am thankful that the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation holds a Trisagion service in the largest "Greek" section of one of our largest commercial cemeteries on Memorial Day morning.

As I help to chant the service I will remember my great-great uncle Joseph Workman from Wiconisco, Pennsylvania, who enlisted in the 96th Regiment September 23, 1861 and reenlisted February 15, 1864.  He was wounded in the left leg in a charge on the Rebels at Spotsylvania on May 10, 1864, was taken prisoner, and died in Rebel hands June 9, 1864. 

May his Memory be Eternal!
Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015

Dan Fienen

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2019, 10:19:20 AM »
In my previous parish, the two LCMS churches jointed owned a cemetery and every Memorial Day we would take turns offering a Memorial Day service at the cemetery. The focus would be on all the members of the two congregations who had died during the previous year. We had a national cemetery in town but were not a part of any observances held there.


This year, at my current parish, my focus for this Sunday was on Memorial Day. Prelude was the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and Postlude was “God of Our Fathers.” Before the service I invited members to give me names of loved ones that they had lost to remember in the service. I preached on the Gospel Lesson for the day, John 16:23-33, which concludes with Jesus saying, “I have overcome the world.” I suggested the idea that our military, and police, fire, and other first responders, are part of God’s providence for His people. While we remember and honor them for their service, we also thank God for using them in His providence. Also pointing out that the passage was from the Last Supper and Jesus was Himself the next day going to give His last measure of devotion for us and our and their forgiveness.


During the prayers I read the “Roll of Remembrance” the list of loved ones the people who had lost, thanking God for having blessed them with us, and tying their hope to the redemption that Jesus won. I played some meditative music while showing pictures of the American military cemeteries around the world inviting the people to remember the many who gave their lives. I then offered prayers of thanksgiving and honor for their service to our nation and to God, and tied their hope of eternal life to faith in Jesus. I also prayed for those who came back wounded and disabled, for those serving, and also for the families of those who serve.


This was not a jingoistic flag waving, rah, rah rah, for America service, but a recognition of our losses, thanksgiving for the dedication that has preserved the nation of which we are a part, and reflection to God who is our Savior and preserver, who used their dedication as part of His providence. It is not our role as church to do PR or recruitment for our country, but Memorial Day is a part of our people’s lives and we have things that we can and should say about that.


Also watched the Washington D.C. Memorial Day concert on PBS. As usual very moving and excellently done. Thankfully free of political posturing from any side.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2019, 10:38:04 AM by Dan Fienen »
Pr. Daniel Fienen
LCMS

Charles Austin

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2019, 11:45:32 AM »
I was often asked to do invocation, prayer or benediction at town Memorial Day services because I knew some of the vets and firemen who organized the services. I always agreed. And I always found it a fine occasion, remembering those who have sacrificed and died for our country and remembering the terrible cost of war.
A couple of times after the service we went to the American Legion hall where - over beer and burgers - vets talked about their service.
The only "trouble" was on one day, mid-90s. An American Legion speaker from a nearby town gave an address (usually there wasn't a speech) that was America-First, kill-our-enemies, jingoistic in its tone. So in my prayer, I remembered all who have died in war - our people in uniform, refugees, bereaved family members and those on the "other sides" who had lost their lives.
It was this last reference that prompted the speaker to come at me after things were over and "remind me" that it was "our guys in uniform" we were remembering, and I had no business mentioning refugees or our "enemies."
"People like you, Father," he said with obvious contempt, "are what is ruining this country."
"Sir," I said, "you are entitled to your opinion. Have a nice day."
Later my American Legion friends apologized and said he was out of line. That prompted a good talk about "enemies" and related matters.
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Now in Minnesota. Interesting things on the new administration and religion in the 1/24 newspapers. Douthat column, e.g. Posted link here, but it was deleted.

Charles Austin

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2019, 11:52:13 AM »
BTW, the national observance, broadcast on PBS, is always good. I like it when they sing the anthems of all the uniformed services and people in the audience stand when their service is called out. (My Orpheus Club guys sang this medley a couple of times.)
As the camera pans the audience, you see all kinds of people - young, old, guys in suits, guys in T-shirts, men and women, people of all colors (once a man with the headdress of a Sioux tribe) - and you have to be inspired by thinking of all those who put on uniforms to serve our country.
Now if we could just work up the same kind of respect for teachers, social workers, nurses, counselors and others who also serve our country. The don't wear uniforms or carry weapons, but they often put their lives and health at risk to do what they do.
Retired ELCA pastor. Iowa born. Now in Minnesota. Interesting things on the new administration and religion in the 1/24 newspapers. Douthat column, e.g. Posted link here, but it was deleted.

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2019, 12:40:45 PM »
Now if we could just work up the same kind of respect for teachers, social workers, nurses, counselors and others who also serve our country. The don't wear uniforms or carry weapons, but they often put their lives and health at risk to do what they do.

Agreed.

But this national holiday is to remember the fallen of nation's Armed Services whose end watch occurred while in service, and, especially, those who fell during time of war.

It is important that we make some distinctions:

Memorial Day is for the fallen in service.
Armed Forces Day is for the living currently serving.
Veterans' Day is for all those who have served, living or deceased.

All Saints'/All Souls is for all the faithfully departed of every time, place, and vocation.
Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2019, 07:16:52 PM »
BTW, the national observance, broadcast on PBS, is always good. I like it when they sing the anthems of all the uniformed services and people in the audience stand when their service is called out. (My Orpheus Club guys sang this medley a couple of times.)
As the camera pans the audience, you see all kinds of people - young, old, guys in suits, guys in T-shirts, men and women, people of all colors (once a man with the headdress of a Sioux tribe) - and you have to be inspired by thinking of all those who put on uniforms to serve our country.
Now if we could just work up the same kind of respect for teachers, social workers, nurses, counselors and others who also serve our country. The don't wear uniforms or carry weapons, but they often put their lives and health at risk to do what they do.


For a special service at our church (with the community invited); we have sung all of six of the military anthems (including the Merchant Marine's). Besides recognizing the veterans of each branch who are present, I offer a brief background of each branch and the origin of the anthems before we sing them.
"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

Marshall Hahn

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2019, 10:50:51 PM »
At my first call we were close enough to my home to be able to go to the Memorial Day observances at the cemetery where my father and grandparents are buried.  After showing up for a couple years, I was asked to deliver the message the next year.  At my next call there was a tradition of holding the Memorial Day observance at the church cemetery every other year, with the local pastor (me) delivering the message. 

For the last 30 years, then, I have given a Memorial Day address almost every year, alternating the last 24 years between these two.  20 years ago the cemetery association at the first place restored the vacant church building on the grounds.  The first service held there was the wedding of my cousin, for which I presided.  Since then they have held a worship service every Memorial Day in the church along with the observances outside.  So now, every other year, I preach a sermon at the worship service along with the address I deliver at the Memorial Day observance.

In both cases it is the Word that has central place.  As Pastor Shelley noted, the focus at the Memorial Day observance is to honor those who have given "the last full measure of devotion".  The Scripture I use will in some way reflect such sacrifice and service, but always leads to consideration of that ultimate sacrifice of our Lord.  For the worship service in the church I generally take a broader view, often drawing upon the texts from Sunday, or employ a kind of All-Saints theme, considering the "great cloud of witnesses" surrounding us on all sides at the cemetery.

I sometimes weary of doing this every year, but then I listen to my own sermon and think of those we are honoring.  This year I made mention of my uncle who served in WW II.  He died a few years ago, and at his visitation one of the pictures displayed was of him and the 60 men he trained with just before they were to be deployed.  Of those 60 men, my uncle was the only one who survived the war.
Delivering a short message each year to honor such sacrifice is a privilege.

Marshall Hahn



J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Memorial Day, Then and Now
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2019, 08:11:04 AM »
Through the years I consistently followed the LBW Daily Lectionary as printed in For All The Saints with two exceptions; using the LBW texts for the Feast of the Visitation when Memorial Day fell on May 31; and using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer texts when Memorial Day fell on Pentecost Monday.

I also found rich connections through some of the Commemorations which periodically coincided:

May 27 - John Calvin
May 29 - Jiri Tranovsky (stanza 5 of LBW # 150)
May 30 - Joan of Arc

Richest and most poignant of all was the Visitation, considering the wounded heart of the Theotokos as portrayed in Western art by the Pieta and interpreted through the song Mama, look sharp! from the musical 1776.

Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015