One year on Veterans Day I failed to thank a veteran for the freedom I enjoyed. The craziest thing was that I spent the whole day working at the church with the guy. I thought about Veterans Day all day long, saw my daughter sing at a school assembly, and remembered fondly the many veterans in my life whom I’ve been privileged to know, including my father. So, on this Memorial Day, we take time to honor and remember those who’ve served this country so well to give us this freedom we enjoy — a freedom especially precious this year of dealing with Covid-19.
At the assembly the choir sang the wonderful song below, and the words, “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep,” struck me. In middle of all the political wrangling in our nation at that time, and even now, it seemed to me that most of us live like I did on Veterans Day: thanklessly taking for granted the freedom in which we live. We so easily forget our constitutional freedoms, but maybe in a time like dealing with this pandemic we may hold them more dear — especially the freedom to gather in worship.
“In Flanders Fields”
by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, (1872-1918)
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.
Lt. Col. McCrae poetically reminds us that the priceless gift of liberty always comes with a cost. Through unstinting service and ultimate sacrifice, many have won and preserved the freedoms we enjoy. We do not enjoy our constitutional liberties without cost. We do, however, oftentimes exercise them without gratitude or responsibility.
two founders on freedom
Take a moment to review these quotes from two politically different founding fathers, yet their idea of freedom and its cost is remarkably the same:
from Thomas Paine:
from John Adams:
These, of course, refer to civil liberties, civil freedoms. These and other founding fathers discovered and demonstrated that a truer sense of freedom comes from a God-inspired understanding: freedom is always costly.
the truest sense of freedom
To be clear, the truest sense of freedom comes from God. True freedom comes in receiving through faith and living by faith the freedom gained for us by the life, death, resurrection, and return of Jesus. The Gospel of John 8.31-2 (NLT) tells us: “Jesus said to the people who believed in him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”
Knowing the truth, who is Jesus, makes all the difference for our lives, and it enables us to make a difference in this world. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus prays, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth” (John 17.17-19, NLT).
If we break faith with him, with all Jesus did for us, then we lose that freedom gained at such a precious price. To break faith is to lose the truth of who we are through forgetting so foolishly what has been done for us. We lose the truth spiritually by forgetting Jesus; we lose it civilly by forgetting our veterans. Our amnesia and ingratitude will be our undoing on both fronts. We must hold the torch of love and freedom high lest we break faith with those who loved and served us into freedom.
By the way, I saw my good friend and brother the next morning, apologized for my forgetful ingratitude, and thanked him for his service of over twenty years as a United States Marine. “Well,” he said, “Thanks. That’s just what we do.”
A text for the table: John 8.25-31.