FOR MEMORIAL DAY 2018:
A prayer for heroic service, from the Book of Common Prayer
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
An excerpt from the poem “The Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, written in 1914.
It’s been said that praying shapes believing. So here’s what I’m wondering on this Monday morning, as our weekend has been extended with a holiday to remember those who, over the centuries, gave their lives in service to the country. What does the prayer for heroic service, found in the Book of Common Prayer and included above, say about what we believe, about how we live our lives as people of faith?
Like many Monday holidays, Memorial Day becomes a day of relaxation and celebration, a day for parties and fun. For some, it’s a day with retail enticements. Stores will be crowded. The summer is launched. Finally. That’s good.
But it’s also probably a good idea to grab a few minutes to think about the day’s intent, to say prayers for those we love but see no longer, to focus on courage and sacrifice, to see what we all can do to “study war no more.”
As the prayer calls us to observe the day, it asks us to do four things: to remember, to resist rest, to share benefits, to accept disciplines.
First of all, we remember. We would not have a day called Memorial Day if we weren’t so prone to forgetfulness. There’s a part of the Episcopal liturgy which, during the eucharist, recites the good things God has done for us. It’s got a technical term: anamnesis, which literally means not amnesia. Not forgetting. In our bubbles of time and space, we may well forget the great cost. Today, how can we take moments to remember with gratitude the cost of the promise of our common life?
And today, we consider what it would mean to be restless. One of the great challenges I find in our work with congregations is complacency. The sense that we are done, completed. It can be a spirit of self-satisfaction. It can be a spirit of resignation. We honor those we remember by refusing to rest, striving as they did to ensure a better world, to go deeper, to know that God is never finished with us yet, to include more and more people in the experience of God’s justice and freedom, peace and love. How can we embrace that holy restlessness?
Today, we consider what it would mean to share benefits. When Jesus called his disciples to meet him in the least of our brothers and sisters (see Matthew 25), maybe he was talking about sharing the benefits of our common life, recognizing that we are in this together. As we observe a day in which we remember those whose efforts and offerings were intended to lead us to greatness, we note with thanksgiving the gifts and privileges of our common life. Freedom to vote. Freedom of expression. Freedom to worship. Freedom to protest. Freedom to learn. Fighting for such benefits cost lives over the course of our nation’s history. How can we share those benefits now as widely as possible?
Finally, today, we consider what it would mean to accept disciplines in our common life. We have been graced as a nation. Such grace is not cheap. A life of freedom calls for us to live into that grace, with intention, vigilance, practice, prayer, effort. This prayer calls us to accept those disciplines gladly.
Have a great time today. But also take time today to remember. Reflect on holy restlessness. Make a commitment (even a small one) to share benefits you have received. And prepare to accept disciplines that come with being a disciple.
If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.