I remember the one time I was in Normandy, France, where the thousands of crosses line a cemetery of soldiers who died in service to their country. There are no words to describe that place, standing on what feels like the most hallowed ground. I also remember walking down the hill to Omaha Beach, one of the many that was invaded upon in a near suicide mission over seventy years ago now. I remember putting some sand in a little jar to take back to my grandfather who served in the Pacific during that same World War. And I still remember his reaction, as if there were no words to describe it at all.
And yet we have reached the point in our nation’s history when we worry about losing the words forever, as more and more veterans of World War II are dying far too fast, far too quickly for us to hear their story one last time. There is a frantic effort underway now to make sure their recollections of those tumultuous years are recorded for the generations to come; lest we forget what they endured, what the world was facing during one of the most pivotal times in humanity’s story.
There’s more to those years than simply regurgitating facts: dates, names of commanders, number of lives lost, and locations of battles. There’s much, much more to those lives than simply numbers on a page. Back home, families waiting in utter suspense would be the most massive understatement, to say the least. Relationships formed between soldiers when they had absolutely no one else to turn to not just in barricades, but in trenches approaching enemy lines. Hopes of returning home to be with the one they just married. Those stories are just as important to hear as details of a single attack. They provide, even more, a human face to war in all its horror, lest we forget.
But of course that doesn’t mean it’s easy. For many veterans it is incredibly difficult to talk about such memories. Words cannot fully describe what they went through; how they felt then, even how they feel now about those days and nights in service. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t stop us from providing the opportunity to do so, for the precious chance for a conversation to ensue, for us to better understand sacrifice, bravery, courage, dedication, and love. It just might actually bring us a little closer to understanding such things of Christ Himself: for a glimpse of His bravery and courage to face death, for His sacrifice empowered by a love for all humanity.
At the end of the Gospel text this morning we heard how this word of ultimate hope spread about Jesus throughout Judea and beyond, and again, I have a feeling it took more than just a retelling of events, telling how exactly this prophet raised a widow’s only son from death. The people must have gotten into what it all means for them, how it impacts their family, how what this Messiah was up to reshaped how they saw the world the rest of their life. Their stories were much much more than simply regurgitating facts; it was about unveiling their faith, their soul, their meaning for life as they talked about this Jesus Christ Who came to save them for eternity.
And so as we have reached a point in our nation’s history when we not only worry about losing the voice of what many call, “The Greatest Generation” we also worry about the church, the faith in this country. We can debate all the way up to next Memorial Day weekend as for the reasons why, but it’s safe to say it is no longer a given that people will be raised in a church atmosphere. No guarantees they’ll read any parts of the Bible, or that they’ll pray at all. In the past we could always rely on the story of Jesus Christ getting out any other way possible than through our own personal testimony. We’ve even been drilled into thinking that talking about religion at all is as taboo as talking about politics, just in case we’ll make such an embarrassing scene that not even Jesus could help save.
Except, somehow, someway, word got out. People talked. It wasn’t Jesus doing all that on His own. He made an impact. He ignited their faith in a way they didn’t know was possible. They shared their story. They told how this Savior impacted their life. They couldn’t keep it to themselves. They had to share with their family and friends this greatest hope and love of all time. They demanded others knew about it too, so that they can experience this life-altering God.
This God has more than blessed us with the Greatest News of all time. This God continues to bless us through a church family, through Holy Communion, through prayer, not for own personal fulfillment alone, but that, just like they were in Judea long ago, we too will spread this story, our story, through this family of St. John’s and beyond. And that story is far from finished, because God continues to compose it through all of God’s precious children then, now, forevermore. And for that, we give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon