If you concentrate, you can tune out the buzzing of boats, the crackling of grilling fires, and the roaring of patriotic fervor on this Memorial Day weekend. The din is replaced by one faint yet earth-shattering sound. It is the tap-tap-tap chiseling of new names hammered into walls of granite and stone. Each name once belonged to an image bearer of God who lived, breathed, and put on the uniform of the United States military before Death swallowed them up.
Though I have never lost a loved one due to war, I imagine the cognitive dissonance of our recreation in the name of mourning is liable to tear asunder those who have. The confusion is worsened by the church in America, who seems to insist on choosing either bombastic displays of patriotism that replace the entire worship service or a complete and disconcerting silence on the entire matter. So what is a Christian in America, born of this democracy yet accepted into the Kingdom, to do on Memorial Day?
Mourn. Pray. Fight.
Mourn, because Death is real, an ever-gaping maw whose hunger only grows as it consumes more of us. Mourn, because those who mourn will be comforted. Mourn, because even Jesus cried at the death of His friend. Mourn, but not as those without hope, because we serve a God who hears us as we
Pray for those who stand over the broken clay that once hugged them, whether the final flag-draped journey happened this morning or before we were born. Pray for their strength as they try to go on. And pray for our strength, the Christians of the world, as we
Fight, but not with the weapons of this world, for our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Fight for peace, because it is a struggle. Fight for peace, that we may be called children of God. Fight for Christ’s peace for all, because your skin color, national origin, or politics do not determine whether you miss a father, mother, brother, sister, or friend whose God-given life is cut short by bomb or bullet.
We fight for the Pax Christi, not the Pax Americana. Peace is not the mere absence of conflict, and no economic or military force can create it. While it may be tempting to apply Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers to the Pax Americana, it logically would also have to apply to the Pax Romana. And I have a hard time believing Jesus, a man killed unjustly by the Roman state in the name of “peace” during the Pax Romana, was describing the ending of war through violence, be it at the hands of Romans or Americans.
We don’t wait until the End to fight for peace. Though it is much easier to wait for Him to take care of our mess, the blessing is not, “Blessed are those who make peace after the end of all things.” We fight ourselves so that we may never grow comfortable with violence as, “just the way things are.”
We fight for joy, hope, love, and the presence of Christ Himself. We fight for the complete reconciliation of Americans and Iraqis, Israelis and Palestinians, whites and blacks, and even Republicans and Democrats.
We fight with swords beaten into plowshares, spears beaten into pruning hooks, and assault rifles beaten into spades. We fight to find a new use for the chisel, for its incessant hammering of new names will be silenced.