Monday, May 25, 2009


Memorial Day in Leesburg, Indiana would make Norman Rockwell drool. Families bring their strollers, puppies, and folding lawn chairs to watch a quarter mile procession of tractors, fire trucks, and police cars. They roll across the brick streets and make eyes at waving hands. Horns blast, flags fly, and the colors red, white, and blue appear in various shades and shapes on printed tees. This is how the town remembers.

And there, where the engines die and cemetery starts, our church body gives out hot dogs and soda. This is how we reach out. Patriot fodder for the local herd.

For the second year I was asked to join a duo of Methodist pastors share homilies from the graveyard. Our words, God's word, framed a ceremony, insulated with pledges, salutes, and Star Spangled hymns. We removed our hats, covered our hearts, and paid tribute to the fallen. At no point did I mention the clause in my statement of faith referring to 'no carnal strife,' which at one point meant nonresistance.

Instead, I pledged and prayed and spoke a benediction. "How have the mighty fallen!" David began his dirge. His lament memorialized the life and loss of Saul and Jonathan, 'beloved' king and 'pleasant' prince of Israel.

David's eulogy was my benediction. I read his poem, pointing out that David first was a shepherd, second a poet, and third a warrior. As a shepherd, David called his people to fast and mourn (2 Sam. 1:11-12). During this time he composed* his Song of the Bow (vv. 17ff). Then he unleashed corporeal punishment on the murderous Amalekite (vv. 13-16).

The mighty fall, David sang, and I agreed. Even today I could see their decorated gravestones. But the mighty were not alone. Sitting among them, with solemn faces and Americana shirts, were the rest of us: big and small; patriotic and apathetic; residents and hot dog vendors. "For all have fallen..." Paul wrote because he wanted us to remember our need for a Savior.

*Chronologically, the poem follows the execution, but the fact that David chants the song and requests a copy of it for successive generations implies he had worked on it prior to verse 17. The time of fasting is the most logical time. Moreover, I have to believe David's poems were thoughtfully composed, and not simply the product of spontaneous, ecstatic utterances.

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