Isaiah 6:1 – 8
John 3: 1 – 17
“Here am I; send me!”
Once upon a time, “Memorial Day” was Decoration Day, a national holiday when children and their elders would visit and decorate the graves of those who had died in (or because of) the wars. The War Between the States gave rise to the nation-wide desire to do this. Although hundreds of thousands of war dead were buried on or near the battlefields where they died, the newly-built railroad network made it possible to ship soldiers’ bodies to their hometowns as never before. Many towns and cities established National Cemeteries at that time.
Horror at the enormity and gruesome power of “modern” warfare’s toll prompted communities and their churches, schools, and other organizations to strive to keep the memory alive, both of the dead and of the causes for which they fought. Veterans remembering their fallen comrades were always prominent on Decoration Day, to share first-hand accounts of the sacrifices made by those killed and by the living.
We are living in a different kind of war-time, now. Although the United States is currently engaged in fighting in at least two countries (Afghanistan and Syria), most Americans pay no attention to the news of the combat, and hardly any attention to the men and women who are doing the fighting and dying. Unlike most previous wars of the United States, we now have an all-volunteer military— no draft— and military personnel make up a much smaller proportion of our population now. Nonetheless, our nation is responsible for sending many hundreds of soldiers, sailors, and flyers to kill and die on our behalf. In my opinion, when they come home dead or injured, we as a nation ought to take full responsibility for healing the living, burying the dead, and honoring both.
This Memorial Day weekend, once again, our Bethel will meet to worship in Elk Run Cemetery in Elkton. The place is full of military folks— quite a few of them well known among us.
The following set of prayers comes from A Book of Worship for Free Churches, which was prepared under the direction of The General Council of Congregational Christians Churches in the United
States, published in 1948. In those days, our Bethel was among the Congregational Christian Churches. These prayers are part of “An Order of Worship for Memorial Day, or the preceding Sunday.”
You will be invited to add your “Amen” to these prayers.
CALL TO RECOLLECTION
In the hands of God our Father rest the souls of all who have lived and died for the cause of liberty and righteousness. Grateful for their sacrifice and confident of their eternal life in Him, let us bow in silence to remember the fullness of their devotion.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, in Whose hands are the living and the dead; we give Thee thanks for all who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them Thy mercy and the light of Thy presence, that the good work which Thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Grateful in heart Thy people turn to Thee, O God of all mankind. By Thy strength our fathers made us free. For Thy law and the love of country they gave their lives. Through martyrdom we are come unto peace, and the high histories of the brave are our inheritance. O God, give us wisdom and strength to save our land from greed and corruption; from pride and presumption; from tyrants and misrule. Deliver us from war and the menace of war. Give to our leaders wisdom and to our people patience, that together we may achieve a better life, a purer life, a more abundant opportunity for all. Grant unto our land to be numbered among the peacemakers and become a hope to the oppressed. Give her the desire to promote honor and brotherhood throughout the earth, that in liberty and self-restraint, in charity and gentleness, she may ever be worthy of her origin and of Thy favor. Amen.
O Thou in Whose hand are the hearts of Thy creatures; shed abroad Thy peace upon the world. By the might of Thy Holy Spirit quench the pride, quell the anger, and cast out the greed which cause man to strive against man, and people against people. Lead all nations in the ways of mutual help and good will, and hasten the time when the earth shall confess Thee indeed for its Savior and King, and no evil deeds of man shall defile Thy glorious creation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.