Dear Friends: A most blessed Memorial Day holiday—a holy day—to you all! Our theme this day is “Remembrance and Reconciliation.”

We worship today at the intersection of memory and hope. Memory of wars past (and especially of persons involved those wars) and hope that the future will be different—perhaps if we somehow can do some things to make that future different—to help create a world free at last from the scourge of war.

Memorial Day, lest we forget, is more than an opportunity for shopping mall sales and big car dealer deals, like the one just across the river this weekend that promises: “We’re gonna wow you this Memorial Day!”

Of course, Memorial Day’s origins lie ’way back in the massive carnage of the most terrible war ever fought on American soil, 140 and more years ago: our un-Civil War in which half a million Union and Confederate persons died and nearly 300,000 others were wounded.

But this year, Memorial Day comes in the very midst of another and increasingly grisly war: this one on the soil and sands of ancient Mesopotamia where, just 14 years ago, on that same soil and sands, there was another war (it was said) for the sake of creating “a new world order.” And this time (or so it was said) the war was necessary because of Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction.” Only – those weapons have yet to be fired, or even found. And the hiatus (the gap) between the war policy and our intelligence services is being exposed as never before.

Moreover, this time the prospects for celebrating an early victory have died as the warfare sinks into an infinity of car-bombings and confusions as to who the enemy really is.

Yes, the insurgent enemy seems to include some remnants of Saddam Hussein’s own depleted military. But also simply some rebellious tribesmen. And more: a whole array of transnational warriors from so many predominantly Muslim countries: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine – countries imbued with a rising hatred of America. And the chief terrorist among them all is a Jordanian, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. In these and still other countries, anti-American demonstrations are now filling the streets every day.

As the casualties increase, (and nearly 2,000 American lives have been lost there), no political opinions about this war should distract us Christians from sorrow and care for the families and communities—here and in Iraq and elsewhere—who have had to cope with such suffering and grief.

But also, Friends: Memorial Day, for many of us, is full of family memories of loved ones involved in past wars. My late father was an Army private in a field hospital caught in the hideous trench and gas warfare in France and Belgium in World War One. In later years, he was a high officer in the American Legion who sought to moderate some of the chauvinist excesses of some fellow officers. My late brother was an Army Signal Corpsman in the North Pacific in World War Two – and he never fully recovered his mental health thereafter. And my first cousin lost his life in a bomber crash at the very end of that war. So my family (and perhaps yours) has special memories which we have been revisiting this weekend.

Such memorial thoughts today mix with our long-ago scheduled Scripture readings for this sabbath day: texts which seem to be all about violence and war, peace and security.

God commands Noah, a blameless and righteous man, to construct that sturdy ark out of cypress timbers as a safe and secure shelter from the floods about to be unleashed. And why the floods? Because of wars and violence throughout the whole Earth.

The psalmist sings (as we today have been singing) of the God of our refuge from the hostilities of all the nations – yes, the God who shall make “wars cease to the ends of the Earth.” The God who destroys all the weapons of war. He breaks the bows. He shatters the spears. He burns the shields with fire. God disarms all the warring nations. “Be still!” He commands, so that you/we may know who God really is: the Creator, the Giver of Life, the One exalted above all the nations.

In his Letter to the Romans, Paul reminds them of another Psalm (#53) in which “God looks down from heaven on all of humanity to see if there are really any people left “who seek after God.” But there seem to be none. So exploitation, terror, and misery lead the psalmist to cry to the Lord for deliverance from all this violence.

And our Lord Jesus Christ, at the very, very end of his Sermon on the Mount, warns that those who only mouth pious words but who fail actually to act according to the will of God, will find their security, their real security go down in sinking sands.

And what, according to Jesus Christ, is the will of God? What is it that leads to real security? It is to be peacemakers, to love even enemies, to renounce retaliation, to refrain from ultimate and doomsday judgment on other persons and nations. These remain imperatives for all of us, whether or not we may conscientiously support, or participate in, military services or policies. Perhaps some of you will not agree with my own concerns and proposals. I shall not love you less!

So Memorial Day is not only about remembrance of times and things past. It is—or it should be—about what we must do and be to prevent the horrors of the past from becoming the terrors of the future.

Memorial Day this year coincides with the release of another spectacular, popular “Star Wars” movie that is already grossing millions and setting attendance records. But, coincidence or not, we worship today just after the revelation that many billions of dollars have already been spent to develop a whole new array of weapons for actual warfare ’way out there in space.

  • So-called “Global Strike Aero Vehicles” which would be launched from space planes – weapons with a range of 3,000 miles that could strike mobile targets and deeply buried bunkers.
  • Next: “Hypervelocity Rods”—long metal rods deployed from an orbiting platform way up and out there—rods that might then hit ground targets anywhere on Earth, at a strike speed of 120 miles per minute; weapons now whimsically baptized “Rods from God.”
  • And then: “Eagles.” “Eagle,” my friends, is the acronym for “Evolutionary Air Global Laser Engagement.” (Perhaps a bit of overworked imagination!) These new weapons are to offer lasers with relay mirrors to project either illumination or vast destruction, also from ’way out in space.

The projected costs of these new space weapons range from $220 billion to $1 trillion or more. But who can say what the costs will really be in terms of huge federal budget deficits and/or higher taxes, neglect of urgent human needs, and the increase of the world’s in-security? I do not know. But these are issues Christians must be willing to discuss, debate, and perhaps act upon.

Memorial Day this year also comes in the middle of an unending Senate debate over the United Nations and the nomination of a new U.S. ambassador to the UN.

None of you here today is old enough to remember what I remember: how the churches of this nation during world War Two, and then during the UN’s founding conference at San Francisco (meeting exactly 60 years ago this month in May 1945), it was the churches that led the public campaign for our country to reverse its past habits of isolationism and to support the creation of the new United Nations Organization.

Of course, the UN these 60 years has reflected the failings of its leaders and the follies of its member governments. But the United Nations has also prevented wars and stopped wars. Its agencies have ministered to the poverty and hopelessness out of which much of the world’s violence tends to erupt. And the UN has been at times blessed with marvelous and even saintly leadership, like that offered by Dag Hammarskjöld and Ralph Bunche.

There has never been a time when our own American peace and security depended more on the cooperative institutions of the UN system. For this country now to be represented at the UN by a man who has repeatedly heaped contempt on the UN and our allies, and regularly opposed vital arms control agreements is really dismaying to those who truly care for the collaborative necessities of peacemaking.

At the United Nations, just two days ago, the month long Review Conference on Nuclear Proliferation ended in profound frustration, without any consensus – partly because the present administration persists in developing new nuclear weapons and reneging on our country’s previous treaty commitments. So, especially on Memorial Day, we need to remember that in this “Land of the Free, and Home of the Brave,” we must ever and again exercise our rights and our duties to question official policies.

Dear Friends: Long, long ago, a young minstrel-singer and former military adventurer from the hills above Rome composed the perfect prayer for Memorial Day – or for any day in this world of unending strife and violence. So let us recall this prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make us all instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to be understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.