Grace and peace to you and yours!

The church calendar says this is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, but the calendar on our refrigerators or wherever yours might be hanging, says it is Memorial Day weekend. Some pastors argue the secular calendar with its national holidays should be ignored altogether by worship planners. After all “church” is “church” and we go there to focus on God’s Word, not a holiday that for many marks only the beginning of summertime festivities and events which were not the original intent of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day and began May 30, 1862 as a way to honor those who died in the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers. To this day more American soldiers lost their lives during the Civil War than in any other American war or conflict before or since. Yet Memorial Day was not declared a national holiday to remember those who died in all American conflicts and wars until 1971!

Like a lot of my colleagues I too made the judgment that Sunday was the Lord’s Day and the focus should be on God’s Worship, not the carnage of war. Then a friend in the congregation I was serving confronted me after worship on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and said, basically, “What about me?” Greg was a Viet Nam era veteran, and he felt that his service to our country should at least have been acknowledged some way in worship, if only in the prayers.

I apologized, but I also felt he was a being a little bit unfair. After all Memorial Day was Monday and Sunday is the Lord’s Day.  The next day there would be a parade and special gatherings at a number of cemeteries including the national cemetery where many veterans were buried. Why did he feel he needed more than all that? Of course I have to face the fact that I am not a veteran. I grew up during the same era my friend did. He went to Viet Nam. I was opposed to the war. He enlisted in order not to be drafted. My draft lottery number was 355 – so not much chance I would be “called up.” Did that matter? “Yes,” in one way, but “no” in another. Our experiences were different. And maybe our views of the Viet Nam War were different. But the reality we share is that war is always a terrifying and deadly thing for military and civilians alike. Well into midlife my father was disturbed by nightmares from his experience in the South pacific during World War II.

Not long after the conversation with Greg my son was called up in the Illinois National Guard and served over a year in Iraq. I can honestly say my son came back a changed man, and not for the better. Having endured the terrors of not knowing when the vehicle he was driving was going to roll over an IED (improvised explosive device) among a lot of other things, he suffers from some degree of PTSD.  He also saw the suffering of the people of Iraq, especially the children, one of whom was blinded and maimed by a US air strike. These things tore his heart out. That child later met my son in New York where an aid agency had brought him for additional treatment.  Recently we learned he has lost the functionality of a lung due to titanium dust.

This Sunday’s Gospel tells the story of a Roman Centurion who seeks Jesus’ help for his servant who is seriously ill and near death. He was a military man with great authority and yet he was a man who demonstrated compassion and concern for those he could easily have treated with disdain. I think the story reminds us how important faith is and that faith is not just a vague feeling or emotion, but is made concrete in demonstrative ways, especially in the face of struggle and turmoil.  While defending freedom and keeping America safe is important, it is also important to remember that there are always costs, often untallied in the public mind, to both military and civilians in war. Too often that cost is a loss of compassion and concern for others.  Let us think of this cost as we pray for peace.


In Christ!
Pastor Joe Hughes
Voice & text: 217-898-9063
Email:  j_w_hughes@hotmail.com