Memorial Day 

Today’s readings: Isaiah 32:15-18, Philippians 4:6-9, Matthew 5:1-12a

Memorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country. This continues to be the main focus of Memorial Day but this day has also become a time to remember not just those who died in war, but also all of our loved ones who have died. It is above all a time to remember.

One of the aspects of human nature is that we tend to look for heroes. People we can look up to, who have buoyed our spirits in difficult times, who have turned our attention to the best parts of our humanity. These are the people we wish to emulate, the people who bring us hope in a darkened world. These heroes may be our loved ones or people in our communities who have done great things. People who have sacrificed for the good of others.

On this day we especially look to those who have been heroes in war. People who have given their lives for peace, justice, and righteousness. The beatitudes that we just heard in the Gospel proclaim them blessed: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. We have heard these before, but it’s so important that we hear that these people are blessed, these people are true heroes because of what they sacrifice and stand for and fight for.

I want to be careful not to glorify warfare. I think our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems. And I think that very many war heroes would caution us not to do that. But I certainly acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on good people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice. Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we might not enjoy the blessings we have today.

Those who have been part of our lives, and the life of our country, who have been people of faith and integrity are the heroes that God has given us. These are the ones who have been poor in spirit, who have mourned, who have been meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, peacemaking, and all the rest. If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.

Memorial of 9-11

Today’s readings

I think today’s Gospel reading presents some challenges on this particular day. “Love your enemies” is a fine instruction in times of peace and security, but we don’t live in those times. I wonder if anyone ever did, after Eden.

I think many of us will never forget where we were eight years ago today. People say that about the day that President Kennedy died, or the day when the space shuttle Challenger exploded. But in a particular way, I think we will never forget September 11, 2001, because it was a day that changed our world in some very unpleasant ways and shattered whatever remained of our innocence. Traveling and doing business has changed so much in these years. So many of us have known people who have died in the twin towers, or in the war that has raged since.

And today, war continues, and the lack of peace seems to continue, and there is that ever-present sense of terror. So maybe it is time for us to do some examination and to discern what has led to that sense of unrest. Today’s Gospel gives us the examination of conscience that will help us to do that. “Love your enemies.” The commandment is unsettling. We all know it’s hard sometimes to truly love those who are not our enemies, so what chance do we have to love our enemies? And why should we, anyway?

Well, that last line of the Gospel tells us why: “For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” So the way that we deal with others is the way God will deal with us. That’s almost horrifying. So it is imperative that love be our first inclination. It’s the lack of love that got us into this mess in the first place. So if we want to be with God for eternity, we have to be like God, our God who is love itself.

And yet, it’s easier to say that than to do it. We certainly struggle with our emotions in times of terror and tragedy. But Jesus never said our way in this world would be easy as his disciples, but only that it would lead to eternal blessedness.

It didn’t all go wrong on 9-11; if we are honest, that horrifying day was a long time coming. But that day should have been a loud, blaring wake-up call to all of us that things have to change if we are ever going to experience the peace of Christ’s kingdom. We are not going to get there without any one person or even any group of people; we need for all of us to repent if any of us will ever see that great day. Today, brothers and sisters in Christ, absolutely must be a time when we all hear that wakeup call yet anew, and respond to it from the depths of our hearts, both as individuals, and as a society.

Truly we will never forget where we were on that horrible day of 9-11. But wouldn’t it be great if we could all one day look back with fondness, remembering with great joy the day when we finally partnered with our God, found a way to love our enemies, and turned it all around?