This is Memorial Day in the United States.
It’s a great day to be an American. And a dangerous day to be a Christian.
It’s the sort of national holiday that creates remembrance of freedom, celebration of democracy, a reificiation of our identity as A People–A People willing to die (and to kill) in the name of liberty and justice for all.
Well, at least, liberty and justice as we define it for all whom we deem worthy to receive it (and some, against their will).
As Christians in the United States, we should be careful not to take for granted our share in this freedom. None of us worries about being killed on Sunday morning for joining in public worship.
But this gratitude has its own danger.
We might begin to believe that true freedom is gained by the shedding of the blood of our fallen soldiers. We might forget that no, the freedom we enjoy has been gained by us making the other guy shed more of his blood than we have shed of our own.
“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.
He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”
–General George S. Patton
This is the story of America. This is the story of Memorial Day.
And it is, at heart, the antithesis to the Christian story. And that’s the danger.
This story of making the other bastard die for his country is precisely the story that the disciples wanted Jesus to play out before them. It was the story Peter was demanding of Jesus when he rebuked Jesus for predicting the way of the cross.
And it is precisely the story which Jesus rejects by telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Between the American story of freedom through our fallen (simply because they could not make the other person fall first!) and the Christian story of salvation through the self-giving love of Jesus, there could not be a wider gulf.
Our Memorial Day is celebrated every time we take the bread and pass the cup:
Do this in remembrance of me.
When we take the bread together we remember that our freedom was not a death in war, but a true surrender:
This is my body, given for you.
We remember that we are made a people in covenant with God by blood that refused to be spilled on a battlefield, by the blood of one who would not shed the blood of another:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Let’s be careful how we remember today. Let’s be careful what we remember today. There is freedom that is bought with the price of precious blood.
And it could never be gained by the swords, or guns, of war.