Sermon on Memorial Day Weekend

This is Memorial Day Weekend.

We can tell because the traffic is awful, the beaches are full, and the streets are crowded, even in calm and peaceful ol’ Lewes, and Summer, the promise of these past months, is upon us! For all of this, we say Alleluia!

But it is Memorial Day Weekend for quite another reason than the Alleluia for the onslaught of what T.S. Eliot called “the unimaginable zero summer.” It is weekend and a day to remember all those, who for reason of war, will never have another unimaginable summer.

They have names, names that deserve our saying. We say them until our voices get hoarse, until we cannot fathom the depth of grief on grief, and at the same time the pride on pride. These are men and women who were no better than you or me, and died for reasons no better than ours, but who came to their end in a violence too stunning to think of, still just beyond our ken, we who live less precarious lives. And they lived precarious lives indeed.

Some of us have practiced writing the names of our country men and women who have died in war, in particular in the war in Iraq. We have written them on small scraps of white cloth, and we tie those scraps in long lines.

Today at 1 PM we will fly those small flags in memory, of them individually, yes, and of them all together, and in memory that war ends the lives of those whose summer has never really come, whose time was cut short. We will be in front of the Zwanendale Museum. Perhaps you will join us. The line of little flags, at 20 to the foot, will extend over 80 feet.

Were we to even try to include the names of other conflicts, the line would extend into the far distance. To include the 50,000 in the Vietnam War the line would extend another 2500 feet. The Korean War, and the Second World War, and before that the 1st World War and on and on, would stretch the line far beyond Route One, six miles away.

And the names and flags for others killed from other countries, including 25,000 civilians in Iraq, and from other sides of the conflicts, would stretch beyond our wildest imaginations. Small flags fluttering on and on into the west.

It is hard not to want to make these deaths special, special beyond good ol’ uncle Henry who died in his sleep after years of battling to keep his small gas station going, or the Priest of the parish who lived and worked up until his last days when in his late fifties cancer took him, or the young woman who died in childbirth, having made love once and unprotected.

It is hard not to want to make these deaths special, and in one sense they are special. They are deaths out of normal sequence, assuming peace more normal than war.

What is special about these deaths is that we have set apart this time to remember them. And so we should, for they died because of a collective determination of our government, and sometimes our people, that some end was worth the risk of their lives. And they did indeed risk their lives, and gave them, sometimes bravely, sometimes like many of us, under duress.

It is always good to remember those who have died. Our church is in a cemetery and as we walk through the graveyard to the parish house we can see the names, and sound them out, and after a while, they become almost family. We call them by name. And so we do today. We hope they are in the peace of the Lord.

Yet here is a strange thing: Jesus says, “Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”

I believe and understand that the will of the Father is that we have life and have it abundantly. Warriors sometimes understand that. Some of them report in the midst of battle that everything about existence is heightened and more abundant: taste, smell, sight and sound, every sense pours in, and with it memories. Abundance of life is possible in the midst of terror death, when we are most aware, because most precariously balanced.

Warriors and poets and artists and lovers and risk takers and people on the edge and those who dance until four in the morning and those who laugh when others cry and cry when other laugh…in other words all those more or less on the edge of sanity… they tell us about abundance of life. And we hear it, and we stand in awe, but it is hard for us to move very far from our comfort.

Still I say, better a warrior, a poet, artist, lover, risk taker, edgy person, dancer, laugher, cryer…better that than a person unmoved.

The abundant life is life lived in the moment as if it were eternity. And in that moment we hear Jesus saying, (who is eternally present with us,) “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on rock…” The words Jesus is talking of here are the words of the Sermon on the Mount. They are available to us all, and they concern the wonder and aweful truth:

The will of the Father is not the same as doing good or being nice, or even doing one’s duty. The will of the Father is that we have life abundantly, and we know that by having faith in God in Jesus Christ, who will not leave us bereft.

“Have faith: be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” When Jesus says, “Everyone who hears these words of mind and acts on them,” we are reminded of the two essential requirements if we are to do “the will of God”: that we hear (with deep understanding) and act (with real intention.)

We can pray that those who have died in the violence of war kept the faith and found abundance in life.

We can pray for that for ourselves.

And we can pray for the end of war, and for the practice of other ways in which abundance of life can be realized. There are so many ways to find abundance in the fullness of understanding and intention, in the moment lived fully. There are others ways besides war.

Imagine what it would be like if we recruited young people to be poets and artists, risking all for the new vision, the new painting, sculpture, music that would win the hearts of all people everywhere. Perhaps we could have a draft if there weren’t enough volunteers.

Imagine conscripts in the ministry, risking all there.

What if we demanded that everyone serve two years in the pharmacy, dental or medical corps, and that these services were for the poor and the poor in spirit?

Paul reminded us in today’s reading to assure us that we are justified by faith and not by the works according to the law. Because of this, we realize that no matter the nature of our death, or challenges, or decisions, or our lives in their details of sin and glory, we are not finally left alone, hanging by the thread of our right or wrong action.

We confess with Paul that “all have sinned” and that includes us, and all those we remember this day. But we glory too in knowing that our sin is not the final say, nor is our right action in terms of the laws of Moses or any other law.

The final say is that God’s grace and mercy shown in Jesus Christ is the true source of our abundance. And the will of God (as I can see it now) is that we have the abundance of life that comes when we live not only for ourselves but for others, for Christ Jesus in others, and in the presence of Christ with us.



  1. A very fine sermon. We had decided to read the names of the 664 killed in Iraq since last Memorial Day tommorrow during our Eucharist, but we found the list was too long. We are thinking about putting a prayer ribbon with the name of each person killed in the war on the iron fence that surrounds our churchyard.

    I do not understand what's happened in folks minds where honoring our war dead by name has become either 'unpatriotic' or an 'invasion of privacy.' I always thought that the idea of memorial is to 'make memory.' If we don't name the dead, then we certainly aren't remembering the living.

    Again, thank you.

    A.T. Gerns, Rector, Trinity, Easton, PA

  2. Abundance of life. My most prayerful moments have been praising God in dancing at night clubs.


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