Plowshares and Memorial Day

If my attempt to beat words into plowshares is going to be tested, I think a prayer for an American civil holiday is one of the better testing grounds.


I was asked as the only pastor in town to give a prayer as an invocation for the town’s Memorial Day ceremony.  Here is the prayer that I gave:


O God, creator of all, all we have been given has you as its source.
And so we come to you again and again with grateful hearts for your generosity towards us.
We thank you for this beautiful day,
for the green all around us,
for the sun shining bright and warm,
we thank you for the flowers and the vision to enjoy their beauty,
we thank you for beautiful music and we thank you for a day off to enjoy all this.
You created us for life, for joy, for beauty,
but we come to you now remembering those who did not remain with us to enjoy your gift of life.
We come to you remembering our fallen brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers.
We come to you remembering that their lives were cut short in the chaos of conflict.
You have created us for peace, for fellowship with our fellow human beings,
but humanity again and again finds itself embroiled in war.
Many of these men and women were from small towns like Acworth,
and we remember in particular today those who went from this place,
to unknown lands, into unknown destinies.
O God, you have created us as a remembering people,
we remember some things so well and others so poorly,
we remember some things as they really were and others as we would have liked them to be–
our capacity for memory mingles with our capacity for creativity and we create tall tales.
Today we ask, O God, that you would give us the clarity of mind, the grace of thought, to remember truthfully our brothers and sisters fallen in battle.
So often we want to glorify the fallen, but they were human too.
So often we want to transform their war into an event of mythic proportions, but war fought by those close to us is nonetheless destructive and horrifying.
O God save us from too free an imagination.
We pray that we would neither romanticize the fallen, nor forget them and the wars in which they fell.  We continually face the temptation to forget history, to live only in our own small worlds of work and amusement.  We pray, O God, that you would save us from becoming blind in forgetfulness.  May we remember truthfully, neither idealizing nor disdaining the fallen in an attempt to exempt ourselves from the sacrifices and compromises of war.  And let us not forget the wars of the past, or ignore the present wars and thus find ourselves doomed for more of the same.
Most of all, save us from abusing the memory of the soldiers for our own agendas.
Politicians have already used and reused the memory of the fallen for their own purposes.
Today we want to remember them truthfully, as individuals.
May our memories not be tainted by a spirit of retaliation — deliver us from the tendency so ingrained in our minds and hearts to turn one violent act into a longing for another one.
Let not violence breed more violence in us, O God.
Help us to remember them as human beings, as fellow human beings, as those who laughed, ate, drank, slept, cried, who longed for home.
Help us to remember that they were so much more than soldiers, that they were once like us here, gathered together on a beautiful May morning.
Help us to remember that they loved peace, they loved home just as much as we do.
As we decorate their graves, O God, we ask that we would do it as fellow human beings who are grateful for the strength that these men and women showed as they left home to face to horrors of war.
We ask that as we recognize our common humanity with the brothers and sisters that we remember today, that we would realize also our common humanity with those who lost loved ones.  So often we get caught up in our own feelings about this day, our own memories, our own stories.  We ask, O God, that you would give us grace to step outside of ourselves this day that we might show our love and support grounded in our common humanity.  Knowing that our gestures and words only go so far in showing our care, we ask that you would make our love known in a real way to all those for whom this day is especially sorrowful, especially those who have recently lost a loved one in battle.
We ask that you would spur us this day as we remember the fallen, to create here and now in our communities, in our families, the kind of society that would manifest a peace stronger than the temptation to war.
As we breathe in the fresh spring air, we ask that you would inspire us by your beautiful creation and its harmonious order to be agents of that harmony, agents of that beauty in our daily walks.
May this Memorial Day not leave us in the past, but point us to the future.  May the stings of death’s arrows produce in us a fervent longing for the fullness of life that we can live by hearts of love through works of love, here and now.  May the memory of the fallen be transformed into an inspiration to go out and make peace.

We come with hearts equally full of joy and sorrow, of gratitude and remorse.  Give us O God a vision of your beauty, a vision of your design for this planet and may it drive us to depths of appreciation for your goodness and for all of the gifts we have been given in life — especially by those who have gone before us.

We thank you, O God, for this day.  We thank you for our brothers and sisters all across this globe.  Inspire us by the peace we enjoy to work for that peace for all people.

We pray this in the name of the one who created all things and called them good,

Amen.

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