Last week we commemorated Memorial Day. This wonderful holiday, though not necessarily a spiritual one at its core, is significant in that it highlights the sacrifices of so many for those of us who are left.
Those sacrifices exemplify the truth that anything of value is worth fighting for, and if we are not willing to fight for our freedom, then it will soon be lost, simply because we do not consider our freedom valuable.
So many men and women have paid the “ultimate price”, have given the “ultimate sacrifice”, and have died the “ultimate death”, all so that you and I can live the ultimate free life and lifestyle.
While those expressions are made sincerely by those of us who are alive and well and enjoying the freedom that has cost so many lives to not only achieve but also to maintain, Memorial Day is for me and for many a day to not only remember with abounding heartfelt gratitude those sacrifices, but also to recall and commemorate significant others who have died in the past year.
This is not to diminish the meaning of the sacrifices of those who have fought for our freedoms, but rather to magnify them, for without those freedoms purchased by so many, the memories of the few would not be relevant at all.
As well, in considering the “ultimate” nature of the sacrifices, it is also a tendency to lose the individual.
Every man or woman who has died in service to our country is someone’s son or daughter or brother or sister or husband or wife or father or mother. Every one of them has had a nickname, a pet peeve, a favorite dessert, or a personal hobby.
It is all too easy and simplistic to lump them all together and to forget or at least to gloss over their individual idiosyncrasies, the “stuff” that makes them special.
Having said that, there indeed is also an ultimate spiritual emphasis to the holiday called Memorial Day, and it cannot be better demonstrated than through the story of how author and speaker Brennan Manning got the name “Brennan.”
Brennan’s given name was Richard. While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the front lines together.
One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole.
Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.
When Brennan became a priest he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So he took on the name “Brennan.”
Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?”
Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, “Does God really love me?” And Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “What more could he have done for you?”
The cross of Jesus is God’s way of doing all he could do for us. And yet we often wonder: Does God really love me? Am I important to God? Does God care about me?
In John’s Gospel, the fourth in the New Testament Scriptures, he quotes Jesus himself when he says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
In the pages of one of his most successful writing efforts, entitled The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan reiterated that eternal truth and explains where he ended up after that conversation with his friend’s mother when he said, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”
We are living in a time in our nation’s history where the freedoms we have enjoyed for almost a quarter of a millennium are under attack, not so much by enemies from without but by “friends” from within.
It is very easy to get so upset and frustrated with those attacks that we lose heart and essentially, like the proverbial turtle, withdraw into our shell until the battle is over.
My friends, God would have us not to give up or give in, but to continue to bask in the “Sonshine” of his unmitigated grace-filled love for us, and to remember all He has done to insure our freedoms last forever!
Memorial Day is a time to remember… God first, our heroes second!
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.