On Memorial Day 1884, Oliver Wendell Holmes addressed a gathering of veterans who, like him, had fought in and survived the carnage of the Civil War. By 1884, there was a new generation for whom the war was only a matter of history books and their parents’ stories of “back in the day”. One such young person had asked Judge Holmes why Memorial Day should be observed. Holmes answered with what became one of his most famous speeches.
He testified about what he saw on the battlefield: a surgeon who was killed helping a wounded man, a major who saved his troops only to be killed himself; soldiers who gave their lives for each other.
But it wasn’t bitterness and revenge that drove Holmes’ argument that these soldiers not be forgotten. It was life. “The generation that carried on the war,” Judge Holmes said, “has been set apart by its experience. Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.”
It wasn’t that the war itself - with its horror and carnage - was a good thing. Their “good fortune” was instead being a part of something greater than themselves, witnessing paralleled bravery and self-sacrifice; becoming closer to their comrades than family, and understanding that the real heroes are the ones who never left the battlefield. That experience taught them something as youth that most of us never really learn; that life is precious and that every day should be lived as testimony to the gift of life.
In June there is much to celebrate with our youth and children:
June 2: Senior Sunday and Baccalaureate
June 6: WDS graduation
June16-22: Worship and Music Conference
June 23-27: VBS
This weekend, as we begin this busy, happy time, let us do so remembering those who gave their lives in service to our country; service men and women of every generation who were also “touched with fire”.
And let us recommit ourselves to the One who touches our hearts with fire and makes our lives precious by the gift of his sacrifice - our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As our youth and children embark on new experiences this summer and next year, may they, too, be set apart with hearts touched with fire so that their lives are a testimony to Jesus’ gift of grace.