A Russian attorney who had served his country during the Cold War visited America soon after "the walls of communism came down." He had been with the department of religious affairs that was instrumental in persecuting Christians, especially Pentecostals.
Laila and I had the privilege of hosting him in our home. He was a professed atheist and communist staying in the home of a Pentecostal pastor. He was present in a Sunday morning worship service and deeply moved, asking for a Bible to take back to his wife and daughter.
Intentionally I toured him through our city with time spent in a textile factory, the university hospital, the lawn of the University of Virginia and, yes, a funeral home---all the way to the casket room and crematory.
That which amazed him most was the tour of a funeral home and learning the respect we give to those who die.
We stood in solemn thought pondering the impact upon others and society when a person departs from among us. Andre Protopopov, the atheist attorney, was introspective and then mused: "Russia will never be great until it learns how to respect the dead."
I was in Russia in 1989 with KGB everywhere and communism in death throes. Visiting a remote village we learned that when a person died the body was boxed and put on a government dump truck. Folks walked behind the dump truck to the cemetery. The body was placed in a mausoleum. One year later the body was removed and bones discarded to make room for another body.
Memorial Day in America is a call to remember those who have given their lives for the liberties of this country. Memorial Day is a gentle reminder that millions of other soldiers and persons who have served in civic duties live out their days with painful memories, injured bodies and with mental challenges.
One of my uncles was at Pearl Harbor. Another of my uncles was on the beaches of Normandy D-Day. My three brothers wore uniforms for our country. My eldest brother had a tour including 11 months in the Iron Triangle of Vietnam.
Make no mistake that our remembering of those who have gone before us is not a tribal mystical religion that keeps the dead alive or worships those who have died.
Our remembering others is a statement of how we value life. Do we feel that those who preceded us were obligated to provide a good life for us? Do we think history is episodal, i.e., what happens in our generation has nothing to do with what happened in previous generations? Or do we believe history is linear, connected, with our generation building the foundation for those who follow us?
We consider that our purpose in living is because of God, His sovereignty and mercy. We are created to serve, to honor our God and to invest our lives with respect to eternal good. Our time is certain and ordained of God. While we live we have the mandate of filling our place in divine destiny that we may glorify God and be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are suffering, destitute, lonely and lost.
Remembering is not an exercise of passivity that excuses us. Remembering is a bugle call to duty where we are and with all that we have.
We have to ask ourselves like those in the Book of Nehemiah did regarding rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem: "What is our just part, and how shall our family be committed to holy boldness?"
It is not rational that we should expect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the backs of those who sacrificed. We invest while answering our call.
King David after the loss of a son said: "I cannot bring him back, but I can go to him" (II Samuel 12:23 paraphrased).
I Corinthians 15 and I Thessalonians 4 remind us that we are "strangers" in this present world on our way to our eternal home! Hebrews 11 signally observes that citizens of heaven are better than the dirt of this earth.
We remember with hope.
PS Please consider fasting a meal or a day this week, praying that God will conform us to the glory of his Body.