Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 5: 1-9
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
"In Flanders Fields" is a war poem written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer.
It is one of the most quoted poems from the war. Its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict. The poem is also widely known in the United States, where it is associated with Memorial Day. I share it with you now:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
As with his earlier poems, "In Flanders Fields" continues McCrae's preoccupation with death and how it stands as the transition between the struggle of life and the peace that follows. It is written from the point of view of the dead. It speaks of their sacrifice and serves as their command to the living to press on.
Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Many businesses, and churches, including this one, will be closed for its observance. My hope for all of us is that we each dosomething tomorrow in honor and in recognition of those who paid the ultimate price in their defense of this country. You might hang an American flag outside your home, or visit the Veteran’s Cemetery in Houston, where flags have been placed on countless headstones. On your way out of the church, you might stop by the plaque in our narthex which lists the names of the brave men of this parish who died during World War I. While this church does not currently have plaques installed commemorating the lives of brave women and men who died in the service of this country in wars that followed, no doubt there have been many. In spite of all the clamor about Memorial Day sales, and the beginning of summer, tomorrow is a solemn day.
I remember when I was in the eighth grade I went on a school trip to Washington DC, and was selected, with another classmate, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington. At the young age of 14, standing there before that tomb, with impeccably dressed Army soldiers solemnly marching back and forth, keeping watch, I knew that I was participating in something that was much bigger than myself, my family, my school, or my city. If you’ve ever visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, you understand, what I am trying to describe.
As much as Memorial Day is a day to honor the dead, it is also a day to renew our commitment to peace. The prophet Isaiah spoke centuries ago about God’s redemption of human warfare, envisioning a world that no longer new war, a world that new only peace. In the second chapter of Isaiah we find here the prophet’s words: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
In honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, I invite you to stand, as we renew our commitment to peace, praying together the prayer attributed to St. Francis, found in your prayer book on page 833.
Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life. AMEN.