By Chaplain (Col) Stephen W. Leonard, USA, Ret.
“For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139:13-16
My late first wife, Bronwyn Rayburn Leonard’s body, is interred at Jefferson Barracks National Veterans Cemetery in St Louis, one of the oldest and largest Veterans Cemeteries in the United States. She is eligible to be buried there because I, her husband, am a veteran of 33 years in the US Army and a survivor of combat in the Vietnam War. On Memorial Day, her grave, will be decorated, as will all the graves there, with a small American Flag placed by many Boy Scouts in honor of those veterans and spouses buried at Jefferson Barracks.
Her grave sits on a hill under a grove of maple trees beside a chapel of worship, reflecting the God who rules over all His creation and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only One who saves us from sin. Sin was the cause of those wars which resulted in most of this cemetery’s inhabitants, but also we know sin’s payment is death: “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the judgment!” (Hebrews 9:27) As a result of sin “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Jefferson Barracks, established in 1826 shortly after President Thomas Jefferson died, and so named for him, has many Civil War veterans interred there, but also veterans of all the wars fought in by the United States. It is a beautiful and peaceful place near the banks of the mighty Mississippi River dividing East from West in America.
Memorial Day is rightly and spiritually a national holiday of our great nation. Why is that? Psalm 139, which our text above is taken from, speaks of the craftsmanship of God in constructing our bodies. Our bodies are precious to God, their Maker.
Additionally, the lives and bodies of those men and women who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield for our nation’s continued freedom ought to be precious to our country’s citizens, as they are to God. We ought to remember them and honor them, as we are doing, by setting aside an appropriate cared-for place for their interment, and remembering their sacrifice for our freedom by regularly honoring them.
The celebration of Memorial Day exhibits to all observant and thankful citizens that they are genuinely grateful for these fallen heroes for the freedom they won at such a great cost. We should never cease to be thankful for the great sacrifice these valiant warriors made.
On the other hand, an unthankful people should not continue to truly enjoy the fruits of those who died to provide the gift of freedom. An ungrateful citizenry does not deserve the great sacrifice which has been made for them. The only righteous response from us is a thankful and continuous remembrance and celebration. Forgetting it out of laziness or self-indulgence is the bane of the blessings we enjoy.
Please take the time on this holiday to pray to our great God, our heavenly Father, with thanksgiving for those who died to procure and protect your freedom. Do not take freedom for granted. It was never free; the cost was very great!
Thank Him for those who were willing to lay down their lives for their friends, even though they did not know personally who you were. Many sacrificed the ultimate cost that you might enjoy a free life, not under tyranny or cruel dictatorship. In a fallen world, freedom is a luxurious and precious gift. Perhaps you do not know how dear it really is until you lose it!
“O say can you see, through the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantry streaming? And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there, O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And thus be it ever when free men shall stand between their loved home and the war’s desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto — “In God is our Trust,” and the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
(1st and 4th stanza of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner,” 1814)