Today is Memorial Day and in honor of the day, the Pacific Northwest Sun retreated to her home behind the cloud. The gentle wind blows as flags fly at half mast, and the rain falls. I look out at our yard. I am losing my battle with the weeds and I am planning my next assault on their domain but for now the solemnity of the day and the wet earth brings an uneasy truce. Do they wince knowing that their days are numbered? Or do they laugh trusting the strength of their number and their subterranean strength?
I look at my garden plot. On the advice of my aunt, I got all my seed and seedlings in the ground this weekend, with the exception of my tomato plants which I will nurse for a couple more weeks until the warmth of the coming summer arrives and they will take their place along the side of the house. So on a day when my country honors their dead, I look for signs of life, practicing resurrection with last year’s seed.
With a vivid metaphor, Jesus once predicted his own death, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it reproduces many seeds. Those who love their life will lose it, while those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25). The image is of wheat at the end of harvest. The plant, in its death throws lets her seed fall to the ground. From that death came life. The seeds I planted over the last several weeks came from plants long dead. They came to me in tiny packages. I wrested them from these paper bag sepulchers and laid them in the earth, and as quick as three days later, life sprang out of death. With this image Jesus showed us how his death, would inaugurate a movement more potent and tenacious than the weeds that threaten my lawn.
But it isn’t Jesus’ death we remember today (though we remember it always) but the death of American soliders, service men and women, who gave their lives for their country. The life I live here in a little suburban town on the verge of Canada was enabled by the sacrifice of others. The pleasures and freedoms I enjoy and take for granted as my inalienable right, are mine because someone died to purchase this freedom. This is a fact, and it is fitting to honor those who gave their life. I may sometimes balk at the justice and justification for the wars we find ourselves in, but I also know that the way of life that is possible in America and the way of life I love, was bought by another’s sacrifce. I say this, as someone with pacifist leanings who hates the way war kills and destroys and forces us to demonize an enemy we fail to pray for.
But it is also a mixed blessing. What life springs from the death of a solider? Americans like me discard these dead like the husks of old seed and feel entitlement without sacrifice. Americans like me (and you) have benefit from the spoils of war–manifest destiny and fruit from other men’s fields. We have defended capitalism in the free world by sometimes supporting despots ever bit as bad as those we depose; We have destroyed terrorist networks but alienated our friends and sympathizers. We have exacted revenge on our enemies under the guise of peace. We sow to the wind, and reap the whirlwind with American service men and women killed across the globe.
Now, I know some will see the above paragraph as naive and you are probably right. I have no desire to dishonor our dead or the service people who currently serve. They have given their lives for this country and I reap the benefits. But their death did not bring us the sort of freedom we have in Christ. There death, however noble, also enables the ugly American to use and abuse this earth’s resources and believe we are entitled to everything. From death springs life, but whose life? What death?
So this Memorial Day I honor our fallen soldiers for the blessings they have given us and hope for the peace and brotherhood that comes through Christ.