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Mourning Victory

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall no torment touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure is taken for misery, And their going from us to be utter destruction: but they are in peace.

The Book of Wisdom 3:1-3

Dear friends, 

I grew up with Memorial Day being a day at the state park cooking hot dogs, splashing in the nearby stream, and listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio.  As I got older, I marched with the high school band in the parade, toting and tooting an unreasonably heavy double-belled euphonium (my father’s, and they don’t make them like that anymore), with the high point being “John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever.”  When the parade reached the cemetery, “Taps” was played by a trumpeter, and the tones echoed over the mountainside.

Memorial Day began after the Civil War, envisioned by the veterans who formed an organization called “The Grand Army of the Republic,” who lobbied for this commemoration.  The Civil War was so horrific, the loss of life so vast, and through the new technology of photography, so immediate, that the national response became an idealization of death, and funerals and cemeteries moved from conveying the solemn and final to conveying the sublime and eternal.  Gravestones moved from the death’s heads and memento mori that we see in our Town Burying ground to the peaceful monuments of angels and obelisks that we can also find in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Both views are correct:  Our earthly human finality, and the destiny of our souls with God.

Two things come to mind that stand in the middle of this attitudinal and cultural transition: The first is the stunning funeral oration that was Lincoln’s Gettysburg address;  The other is the Melvin Memorial in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (which if you have not seen, is worth the trip – it is in my opinion the best sculpture ever done by Daniel Chester French, and commemorates three brothers who died in the Civil War).  Both the Gettysburg Address and the Melvin Memorial honor the nobility of those honored dead who in the moment of decision gave their all, and recognize the tragedy of war.  They both praise the values and the valor of those who died, yet also see the immense loss and sorrow, and the human failings that lead to conflict.  Let us pray for those who have died for our country, and pray for our nation.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer



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