Monday, May 26, 2014

In Memoriam

A Nursing Home Chaplain Looks at Memorial Day:

"A true soldier doesn't fight because he hates what's in front of him; he fights because he loves what he left behind." - GK Chesterton

My grandfather fought in WWII. He told me once that a soldier's most precious possession was a little packet in his rucksack where he kept letters and pictures from home, to remind him that he had something worth fighting for.  Worth dying for. 
Those people in the pictures were wives, children, parents, girlfriends, schoolmates. None of them were perfect by any means; they'd all had disagreements and conflicts due to selfishness, pride, and willful failure to consider others as more important than themselves.  In some cases, the soldiers weren't even certain of their love and loyalty, and lived daily with the fear of a "Dear John" letter - a final rejection that would end the relationship.

Those at home were struggling too; wondering what was going on "over there."  There was a bigger plan, and they weren't privy to all the details, and they lived each day knowing that at any moment something could happen that would throw their lives abruptly in a new direction.  And they waited, eagerly, for the day the war would be over and they would be together again in peace.

Those who were caught up in the war, far away from home, had doubts and griefs that weighed them down even while they were fighting and kept them up at night when they should have been resting.  But still they risked it all, over and over again, because they knew that the only way to win...the only way to be together again in peace...was to fight.

Today we celebrate those who gave their lives; and those who, though they did not pay the ultimate price, sacrificed some of the prime years of their lives to fight for our country.  And, indirectly, the families who suffered without them to defend liberty - both ours and others'.  It is because of them that I can stand in the dining room at a state-run facility and lead a worship service; and share the gospel with residents; and pray with the staff; and sing hymns with the bus driver.

Yesterday we honored veterans at a special service at the nursing home. When I was asked "Why are you doing it today, when Memorial Day is tomorrow?"  This was my answer:
Most of the time we are Christmas Christians, concentrating on the parts of His story that make us feel good. The homey and familiar and comfortable; a baby in a manger surrounded by placidly curious animals as a bright, warm light shines down from above. We see Jesus as the Gentle Healer, the Miracle Worker who wept at his friend's grave, and who extended the love and forgiveness of God beyond the Jews; from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
But today we remember that, from His very arrival, the war was on.  His birth prompted the slaughter of the Innocents, His life divided even His own earthly family, and His ministry revealed the true hearts of the religious leaders; jealous, power-hungry schemers without a shred of actual faith in the God they claimed to represent.

When Jesus came to earth, He came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34).  And while He was here on earth, He fought not only against flesh and blood enemies, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness (Eph. 6:12) and even faced the devil himself. 

These battles were grueling.  In His humanity he required hours in prayer while His disciples rested.  He was on-call 24/7, even in His few hours of sleep. In the Garden of Gethsemane he agonized in prayer over the final battle, and sweat drops of blood.  Even so, even as the Messiah, Very God of Very God, He was taken prisoner by the enemy and tortured, and finally killed in action. 

That's sobering alright.  But the truly amazing part is that, like the pictures my grandfather and his compatriots treasured in the Great War, OUR pictures were in the mind of the Saviour during His tour of duty in the Greatest War Ever Fought.

We aren't perfect by any means.  Our selfishness, pride, and willful clinging to sin grieved His Spirit even when He was in the thick of battle and weighed Him down on the cross.  We fret when we don't know what's going on "up there" and fear the changes in the Plan which might send our life spinning out of our control, choosing fear over faith. And, sadly, there are some who know of His fight and yet send him a "Dear Jesus" letter, so they can be free to pursue other interests: a final rejection that ends the relationship; and along with it, their hope of the world to come.

He knew all of that.  And yet, in His mind, His economy, we were the ones worth dying for. And so He humbled Himself and was obedient even to death.  Jesus went from the garden to the torture to the cross, because He knew that the only way we could be together with Him in peace was to give His life.  Our only chance of life was His death, and so He paid the price, because you...and I....were worth dying for.
Remember, and marvel.
And thank Him for His Amazing, Unfathomable Grace.....

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