Memorial Day is when we honor the men and women of our Armed Services who have made “the supreme sacrifice;” who gave their lives for their country.
Especially these days, when Memorial Day seems nothing more than a time for cookouts and swim parties, we cannot be reminded often enough about how great a debt we owe our war dead.
They gave up their hopes and dreams, families and friends. They submitted themselves to rigorous discipline — something I understand as a former Marine — 24-hour a day duty, and placed their lives in great peril. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Their sacrifice should inspire in us a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy, bought with a price. And that gratitude should compel us to lives of service as well. Serving Christ, our neighbor, and yes, our nation.
I can’t help but recall the brilliant film Saving Private Ryan. James Ryan, now in his seventies, has returned with his family to the military cemetery in Normandy. He visits the grave of Captain John Miller, the man who, a half a century before, led the mission to retrieve — to save — Private Ryan. At the end of the mission, Miller was fatally wounded. As he lay dying, his final words to Private Ryan were, “James. Earn this...earn it.”
We then see Ryan kneeling at Captain Miller’s grave, marked by a cross. Ryan, his voice trembling with emotion, says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.”
Red-eyed, Ryan turns to his wife and says, “Tell me I’ve led a good life...tell me I am a good man.”
With great dignity, she says, “You are.”
With that, James Ryan salutes the grave of Captain Miller.
You see, Private Ryan, out of gratitude for Captain Miller’s sacrifice, did all in his power to live a good life.
And Memorial Day is a great time for each of us to look into the mirror...to examine our own lives. Are we living good lives in gratitude for all those who have sacrificed for us — including our men and women in the military, our families, our friends, and most of all Christ?
Are we, like Ryan, kneeling before the cross — Spielberg, a master cinematographer had to realize the power of this imagery. Are we, out of gratitude, doing our duty for Christ, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ministering to those in prison, in whatever harvest field to which the Lord has called us?
Examine your life.
And this Memorial Day, at the very least, thank those who have sacrificed for you and those you know who have served in our nation’s armed forces. Maybe you’ll do what I do when you see a guy or gal in uniform...at the airport, at the store, wherever...walk up to them and thank them for their service.
And then go and remember Whom it is you serve.
(This commentary was originally aired on May 28, 2010).