This week marks one of the most special of the patriotic holidays in our nation. This week we have all celebrated Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was originally called.
Depending upon the community, this holiday is just like all the other non-religious days in that there are generally parades and other events which draw the various and diverse members of the community together for a very distinct purpose.
But Memorial Day is also very distinct from all the other holidays in that it is very personal. After all the appropriate regalia at the cemeteries or the war memorials, with the various readings and patriotic songs and inspirational comments, if you are very observant at all, you will notice friends and family members dispersing throughout the cemetery or the memorial to locate a specific tombstone or engraved brick or name etched in the appropriate place on that memorial.
These names are the names of family members and friends who have given their lives in the defense of our freedoms. At those specific locations, often there are various commemorative remembrances left to honor the memory of the one who died. This holiday is more than a patriotic holiday, it is a personal one.
And that very personal nature of this holiday also makes it a very emotional time for all.
But, for a few moments, may I perhaps give another perspective on this holiday. Over the years, I have heard, and I have given, many different messages which commend and commemorate the sacrifices of these faithful men and women who have served in our armed forces. The emphasis has been upon their sacrifices for our freedoms. But has anyone ever thought of the eternal destiny of those who indeed have given their lives for us?
Now I know that question has a positive answer. Many, if not most, people who have lost loved ones in the line of duty or on the battlefronts of the world cannot think of anything BUT where they are now.
But most of the time on these days, the emphasis seems to be on the here and now, on the freedom we have now because of their sacrifice on our behalf.
I once heard of an executive who had only recently hired a British secretary. He had to go on a business trip to London. While he was away, a salesman who had never spoken to the new secretary made one of his periodic phone calls to the executive’s office.
“Mr. Allen is in the United Kingdom,” the secretary told him. The salesman, obviously shocked, replied, “I’m totally sorry. Is it too late to send flowers?”
While we may all laugh at this incredible misunderstanding, that salesman may not be too much different from any one of us! How many of YOU would have thought that the “United Kingdom” was a place located across the threshold of eternity, not just a group of islands across the Atlantic Ocean?
It is true that, from a Biblical perspective, the term “kingdom” does refer to a future eternal home for some. And in one sense, that kingdom is “united.” It is a unique blend of the present and the future.
It is a kingdom that has begun, and is to come. It is a kingdom that has a “once-and-future” King and his name is Jesus. Jesus in his earthly ministry continually promised a Kingdom, and encouraged His followers to repent, “for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).I am convinced that his continual emphasis on that kingdom gave his disciples and all who heard his words a confidence in the present as well as a vision and a hope for the future.
We live in a time and culture where the future, no matter how near it may be, seems so very … very … far away, even if it is only tomorrow. And therefore, since it is so far away, it is also senseless to contemplate the future, but rather to live in and maximize our potential for the “present.”
Our desire for instant gratification and immediate responses is making the “present” the all-important moment for each one of us. We have each experienced moments of frustration when we were not waited on fast enough in the restaurant at dinner time, or when the coffee machine in the lunchroom at work was “out of order,” or the copier gets a “summa cum laude” paper jam that just won’t go away!
We get so involved in the present, that the ultimate vision and purpose for our being here seems somehow to get lost in the shuffle.
In his ministry on earth here, Jesus sought to unite both the present and the future in one person – himself. And he gave his followers a direction and meaning for life that transcends restaurant or post office lines, coffee machines, and copiers.
Billy Graham has stated it best when he said: “The Christian believes in a fabulous future, even though the present structure of modern society should disappear and all its progress should be wiped out by self-destruction as a result of man’s failure. There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is already here in the living presence of Christ in the hearts of all true believers. There is also, however, the ultimate consummation of all things, which is called the kingdom of God. This is the fabulous future.”
Memorial Day is a wonderfully personal time for reflecting and remembering. But even in reflectig on all that our loved ones have sacrificed for us, the issue for each one of US is an eternal one.
The issue is whether WE are part of God’s united kingdom. Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly! (John 10:10).
Is He part of your life? He wants to be!
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette and the News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Port William UMC.