King Saul of Israel considered David an enemy during the latter days of his reign. David formerly had served as commander of Saul’s army. David, also a musician, had used that skill to calm the temperamental monarch. Saul envied David’s popularity and banished him. Later, when Saul and three of his sons perished in battle, David surprised some of his supporters by mourning deeply. Among other acts, he composed a poem praising Saul and his son Jonathan. Of Saul, who tried to kill him, and Jonathan, his closest friend, David wrote these words: “Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and gracious, and in death they were not parted. They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions” (2 Samuel 1:23). He began, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen” (2 Samuel 1:19). He recognized the need for operational security, cautioning that this news should not be told in the towns of the Philistines. He honored warriors slain in battle.
Yesterday, many of us observed a day of honoring fallen warriors. A few scorned those who had died in service to their country, but most somberly recognized that a soldier’s death may save the lives of others, may defend values, and may preserve freedom for others. Some of us have lost loved ones who died while in a combat zone. An uncle of mine was killed in Vietnam. Others of us have served in combat zones; while we survived, we saw death, realized its reality, we knew its threat. I also have served as part of teams that notified families that a child or a spouse had died in a combat zone. In those moments I have witnessed another sort of courage and a deeper grief. These people, military personnel and their families alike, embraced a risk on behalf of others. They sacrificed their lives when many, many others would not serve. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 NIV84). He foreshadowed his own death on behalf of others with those words, but also spoke a principle that applies well to many fallen warriors.
We honor the fallen warriors. Like David, we sing their praises and salute their service. We remember their love and their courage. We give thanks that they once lived, and honor the sacrifice they made.
Our God who remembers and honors,
You call us to be holy as you are holy; you set us apart for your service. Some of us have also been set apart for the service of our country. Memorial Day honors those who lost their lives performing that national service for which we were set apart. It is for us a holiday, a holy day that we set apart to honor those who sacrificed all on our behalf. You saw their courage; you witnessed their bravery under fire. You remember their fear; you sensed their horror when life was lost. Help us to remember and to honor their sacrifice. Equip us with courage and initiative to serve not only our nation, but also you, whatever the cost may be.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.