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From the Rector's Desk

churchAs I write this, Memorial Day is a few days away. Perhaps because I was raised in a military setting and spent much of my life in the Air Force, this holiday has special significance to me. Memorial Day was originally instituted to honor Civil War dead. Local observances were held as early as 1866, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried. The first official and large observance took place on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery. The cemetery held the remains of twenty thousand Union soldiers and some Confederate dead. Five thousand people attended the ceremony. Not long after this, the states began to declare the holiday. After World War I, citizens expanded observances to honor those who died in all American Wars. Today, many use the occasion to decorate the graves of loved ones or attend patriotic gatherings.

If you and I were to walk the paths of Arlington, or one of our veteran cemeteries here in North Carolina we would see many graves of those who died in combat or of combat related injuries. Most of these men and women are not Medal of Honor recipients. Most of them are not well known. They are mostly ordinary Americans who answered the call of their country and did their duty. When the time came, they stood to their post and died doing what needed to be done. It is this sacrifice that we honor and hold sacred.

We are told of another “Memorial Day” in the Bible. The ancient Israelites had memorial celebrations to help them remember major events in their history. They celebrated Passover each year to commemorate their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. When Jesus ate his last Passover meal, He instituted a new memorial to commemorate the deliverance from slavery to sin that he would accomplish for all believers through his death. As He shared the bread and wine with his disciples, he instructed them to eat and drink his Body and Blood in remembrance of him.

In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln said that the deaths of those who died for the nation should lead the living to “Take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” In other words, we best honor our war dead by struggling to keep a free, democratic and honorable republic.

When we take part in Holy Eucharist, it is more than a memorial. The bread which we break is a partaking in the Body of Christ. The Cup of Blessing is a partaking in the Blood of Christ. This means of God’s grace strengthens and confirms our faith and thus empowers us to live out our baptismal promises. We honor the profound sacrifice of our Lord by becoming part of the Body of Christ on earth. He is not a memory for us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He is an active, empowering presence.

Thanks be to God.