Memorial Day: Remembering the Fallen and Remembering Christ
A letter from Navy Chaplain Barrett Craig, currently serving the Marines in Okinawa, Japan, to his home church of Clifton Baptist in Louisville:
On behalf of all of us who have gone from you to serve our country in the military, I thank you. I thank you for praying for us, encouraging us, loving us, worrying about us, writing us, and rejoicing with us when we return. Your influence on our lives for the sake of the gospel has directly impacted how we engage our fellow military members with the love of Jesus, from the desert to Afghanistan, to the shores of Camp Pendleton, to the region of Bahrain, to the island of Okinawa, and to the ends of the earth. Praise God.
As those in uniform regularly surround me, holidays like Memorial Day become more meaningful. Today we consider and remember the men and women who have died in military service to secure the freedoms we so love and enjoy as United States citizens. Many of these deaths were of young men and women in their late teens and early twenties, never having tasted the fruit of their sacrifice. And what is even more sobering is considering the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, and friends who have been impacted by the loss of these unknown warriors. Their loved ones, gone.
Even this year, we have already lost 173 US military members in our War on Terror—6 just yesterday. So the ones we are memorializing today are not those in a distant past, but those who even now may be paying the ultimate sacrifice.
As we remember today, many, I’m sure, are asking themselves why these deaths have to happen? Why war? Why did my buddy die in that firefight rather than me? Their questions are understandable. I hear these questions by the very men and women I serve. Their pain elicits tears, anger, and shouts of outrage—again, understandably so. “It’s not suppose to be this way,” they cry.
Why then? Why war? Why these deaths? My answer to them is to weep with them. And to hug them and say I am so sorry. Then when the time is right, I gently explain to them how our world is broken. Our world is fractured at its foundation. And the brokenness is why there are wars. And wars exist because the world is full of rebels, not merely rebels against foreign governments and people they don’t like, but rebels primarily against a good and holy God. Like Satan, these rebels want to be number one. And so they hate and murder and vie for power—to be, well, if it were possible, in control of the universe. These rebels who wage war, then, fundamentally do it not to overpower the opponent, but to overpower God.
I ask, how can this brokenness be undone? How can the fractured foundation be repaired? The how is in a Person. The question is better posed as Who can undue and repair this bloody mess? But, before answering the Whom, I gently ask these troubled souls to be honest with themselves. Something is not right within them, either. They struggle themselves with depression, intoxication, outbursts of anger, anxiety, pride, fear, lust, and regret. The brokenness is not only in the thick of war, but in their own hearts as well. The world needs mending, but so do they.
So who can save us from this bloody mess? His name is Jesus and he is God’s Son. Jesus knows war. He left not the unstable boundaries of the U.S., but the impenetrable strongholds of heaven to face a million, a billion, enemies who hated him. All odds were against him, but he won—he conquered. He died. He rose again. His death ultimately undid the world’s brokenness and his death also provided a way to mend the brokenness of our own heart. We don’t ultimately see war and death done away with yet, but we will. Jesus resurrected after his death by crucifixion, and he ascended back to the impenetrable strongholds of heaven. We now await for his return to ultimately do away with this broken world and usher in a peaceful everlasting kingdom of unimaginable joy!
So why doesn’t he just come now? Because, I say, he wants you to be apart of his kingdom when he comes. The mending you need in your own heart is required to be a citizen of heaven. And the problem with your heart is that you too are a rebel, a foe, against God, like me, like the rest of the world. Maybe you aren’t as rebellious as others, but we are all still rebels from one degree to another against God. And like a just nation, God does not tolerate rebels—even in the very slightest. The smallest act of rebellion has made us enemies. The punishment? Death.
But the death Jesus died was a death to make us death-deserving rebels God’s friend. Jesus’ death fully paid the punishment, and God accepted his sacrifice. Jesus rose from the dead to prove his death works, that it can make us rebels friends with God. And we receive his friendship, his salvation, his heaven, not by negotiating peace and making promises of a changed life or being willing to go in the battle to die. We receive his friendship by laying down our weapons of hostility against Jesus and saying I, too, am a rebel against God and his kingdom and only Jesus can save me, forgive me, make me right before God, mend the world, and heal the utter hurt and brokenness of my soul.
As I memorialize and remember those who have made the greatest sacrifice, along with their families, to secure the freedoms I enjoy, I am comforted to know God is not far removed from all of this—in fact, he is more intimately near than we probably know. God does know something about war. God does know something about sacrifice. God does know something about pain. Yet God does know and God does have the remedy—Jesus Christ. We genuinely have a hope-filled answer for those who pain this day. Praise God that we do! So let us thank and weep and remember and pray and reach out to our military members today with love and the glorious news of the God who saves and who will make all things new.
Father, we come with heavy hearts for the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to secure the freedoms we enjoy here in America. In many ways, we live because of their deaths. We come with heavy hearts for the families of the fallen. What pain. What sadness. How we break for the great loss they feel. Be with them.
Father, as this day directly focuses us on the brokenness of this world, we thank you there is a remedy. We thank you for Jesus’ sacrifice who secures the heavenly freedoms, eternal life, for those who trust him alone for their salvation. We ultimately live because of his death. God, be active in our military community today. Save. Mend. Heal. And love.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Thank you, God, for those who serve, and especially for chaplains who are ministers of the grace of the gospel.