Man on the Hill

Memorial Day
John 3:1-16

When I was a child, I had a tin (lead) soldier, a bugler. He was dressed in a WWI uniform. I would fan my toy soldiers out on the rug and place the bugler up on a hill. He would oversee the soldiers on the playing field below, and sound commands such as “charge!”

Later, as a small boy, I would accompany my mother to the cemetery on Memorial Day. In the background there was a young man on a hill with a bugle (often my brother). Instead of “charge,” he would play “Taps.” My mother would look solemn, and Freddie Swanson’s mother would weep for a husband whose life was taken by a sniper on a hill. Even as we mourned the dead, we felt a sense of pride for our country and for the men and women who tried to shape the world to be a better place in which to live.

There have been other times and hills. As a youth, I followed on TV our troops up and down the hills of Korea. My brother-in-law surveyed the hills of Vietnam looking for tanks. As a nation our moral sense bifurcated, and there were the hills of Kent State, the grassy knoll in Dallas, and Arlington where John Kennedy lies.

Every Memorial Day since l868 has mourned the victims of war and honored those who died for their country. It is frightfully important that we remember the grim reality of war. For if we forget the sacrifice, horror, and tragedy, then we trivialize death and destruction. The soldiers who have fallen in battle become for us nothing more than toy soldiers on mankind’s playroom floor.

Many of us go to church because we know deep down that the doctrines and creeds and life of the Church speak of realities every bit as profound and overwhelming as those of loss and tragedy. Despite its failures, the Church proclaims a Gospel and sets forth doctrines that encompass realities (such as the Kingdom of God, rebirth, and the crucifixion and resurrection) that lift us above ourselves and offer hope and salvation.

On the one hand, the bugler’s “taps” call us to honor those who served their country. On the other hand, the Church calls you and me to look to a cross upon a hill. For in Jesus’ death and resurrection we are offered entrance into the unfolding kingdom of God; we are offered forgiveness for our inhumanity to man; we are offered unconditional love; and we are offered eternal life. On Memorial Day, the Church does not confront us with bland platitudes, for we are not toy soldiers. Rather, because we are precious in the eyes of God, the Church confronts us with meaningful and abiding truths of love. Amen.