Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The need to remember

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“[Judas Maccabeus] then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.” 2 Maccabees 12:43-45

On Monday morning, I offered a votive requiem Mass for those who lost their lives in military service for our country. Reflecting on that throughout the day, I kept coming back to the idea of a day of remembrance, a day of prayer for the departed, and of how far we have come from that practice as a culture and even in the church.

How often have you sent a card to someone who recently had a death in the family and you write something in it like: "My thoughts and prayers will be with you in this difficult time." I have done so myself many times. There is nothing wrong with the statement or the sentiment, but it does leave something out. What about the person who died? Why are we not praying for them? I think a reluctance to do so came first from the evangelical Protestant culture which sees prayer for the dead as verboten. Then the secularization of that culture saw prayer (or anything else) for the dead as simply pointless. As the second book of the Maccabees points out, if we were not expecting them to rise from the dead, it truly would be a useless and foolish thing, but if we are look toward their resurrection, it is a holy and pious thought to offer prayer for the departed.

I think we should be intentional about remembering our departed friends and family in prayer. Many of the beautiful prayers from the burial office in the Prayer Book came about in response to the great loss (and the resulting need for prayers) that was experienced after the Great War (WWI). For those who showed the greatest love--to lay down one's life for their friends--in battle, I offer the following prayer from the Prayer Book, trusting in Christ's resurrection that it is a holy and pious thought:

Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend thy servants, our dear brothers and sisters who have fallen in battle, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and most merciful Savior, beseeching thee that they may be precious in thy sight. Wash them, we pray thee, in the blood of that immaculate Lamb that was slain to take away the sins of the world; that, whatsoever defilements they may have contracted in the midst of this earthly life being purged and done away, they may be presented pure and without spot before thee; through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. Amen.

You can find a beautiful slideshow of military cemeteries and war memorials here. It is worth a look.

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