“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
— John 15:13
Today being Memorial Day 2017, I have to confess that my mind is always a bit conflicted when it comes to honoring our own country’s fallen soldiers. It’s a conflict brought on by my belief that war itself is rarely if ever “just”; yet, those soldiers who lay down their lives for their friends, neighbors, and unseen others are justified in receiving honor for their heroic sacrifice.
It is in remembrance of these fallen soldiers that I begin this day.
For me Memorial Day is one for waving ribbons on behalf of soldiers and not flags on behalf of nations. It is set aside to honor those individuals who sacrificed their lives for others, who lovingly laid down their lives for their friends. It is not about the nation that declares or conducts war, but about the citizen who chooses love above fear and enters war’s battlefields, skies, and seas in obedience to love’s immortality rather than fear’s mortality.
Personally, I came of age during the Vietnam War. Upon graduating from college in 1968, I was subject to the Selective Service draft used to conscript men of my age into this, in my then newly educated opinion, highly unjust, immoral, and even illegal war against the newly sovereign nation of Vietnam. It was based strictly upon an American lie involving an attack in the Tonkin Gulf. So I joined in protest against that war.
The sin of our anti-war movement of the 1960’s was this, however: we failed to differentiate between the war and the warrior. We wrongly condemned those who served as soldiers and tarred them with the same brush used to condemn our nation’s war policy. Our collective sin as a peace movement was to deny the greater love of those who laid down their lives for their friends, as Jesus had so described it in John 15:13.
So what would Jesus do today?
I wonder if he wouldn’t walk among the families of those who lost loved and loving soldiers of war. Any war. Not to justify the wars themselves, nor even the nations that declared them. But instead to justify those who, when faced with fearful control as driven from within their own mortal bodies, refused to obey that fear and instead chose their own loving influence (never to be in vain) as drawn from their immortal soul. I wonder if Jesus would not take a knee at the grave-site or otherwise pause to honor the loving sacrifice of those who laid down their lives for their friends and unseen others also known as “neighbor.”
And I wonder if Jesus would not call us into remembrance that he, too, was a soldier of war. That upon the hillside of Calvary he, too, was driven by bodily fear of losing control but drawn by the spiritual love of gaining influence (never to be in vain) in this world God so loves. Jesus chose to obey his soul over his body. To place his own faith in influence instead of control. To lay down his own life. To love God and neighbor sacrificially, which is the greatest love in keeping with the greatest commandments.
Yes, my mind will always be conflicted to think that warriors may be moral even when their warring nations are not, or to think that love’s influence will outlive fear’s control even to the point of resurrecting that which was once buried. This is the ultimate conflict between life and death itself. And it is the very essence of what Christian faith is all about. The ultimate resolution that places love above fear, the immortal soul above the mortal body, and the fallen soldier above the nation itself.