Canadian Army Lt. John McRae was in the line of defense that withstood the German assault in Belgium in 1915. The Germans resorted to chemical warfare using chlorine gas but the Canadians held fast. Later McRae officiated at a colleague's burial. In the ensuing days he noticed how quickly the poppies grew over the newly-dug graves. He wrote "In Flanders Fields" that became the national poem of Canada, and a loving tribute to all the dead in World War I.
My mother had three brothers who served in World War II. John Wesley, whom we called "J," was the one who gave me my middle name. He served in the war and was discharged. Raymond was a glider pilot and flew on D-Day. Uncle Raymond never talked about his service, but his son later told me the glider was used to move men and materials behind enemy lines without detection. The casualty rate for glider pilots was 70 percent on D-Day. Uncle Raymond was in the fortunate minority.
And there was the final brother, Melvin. Uncle Melvin was shell-shocked, as it was called in those days, and never had significant conversations or did meaningful work the rest of his days.
It's always fitting to pause and remember the sacrifices of our veterans who ensure the freedoms we enjoy in America.
Jesus likewise gave us a memorial to the cross of Calvary. On the night of his last supper with his disciples he took familiar elements of the Passover meal and assigned new meaning.
The bread, he said, represented his body that was about to be unjustly broken. A few hours later he was man-handled, abused and nailed to a Roman cross. And the cup, he said, represented his blood that would be shed for the sins of the world.
Roman execution was a fact-of-life in the first century. Citizens saw criminals nailed to crosses where they remained for days subjected to pain, the elements and shame, since they were crucified naked. But Jesus died within six hours. In some way our finite minds can never comprehend the sins of the world were laid on his body on the tree and he died quickly.
Knowing that we tend to forget things we shouldn't, Jesus exhorted his church to observe the Lord's Supper and remember the magnitude of his sacrifice. "This do in remembrance of me" is a motto hewn into countless communion tables throughout our churches, and we do well to remember with gratitude the price paid for our forgiveness.
It's appropriate to remember our military heroes on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Independence Day, but it's also appropriate to remember our spiritual hero who gave his life for us.