If you feel conflicted over Memorial Day, you’re not alone. On the one hand, it is right we should honor those who sacrificed everything, driven by the noble desire to serve. On the other hand, it feels less right that we should baptize their sacrifice as a pretext for the next war, and the next one, and the next one.
Other voices for nonviolence have shared their Memorial Day reflections. (See, for example, this prayer from Kurt Willems and this excellent post from J.R. Daniel Kirk two years ago.) For this post, I tapped into the two theological streams I’m drawn to most—the Anglican and Anabaptist traditions—to write an alternative prayer for Memorial Day…
We remember all who serve in the armed forces. We pray for their safekeeping.
We remember those stationed overseas. We pray they will be reunited with their loved ones soon.
We remember those who have experienced combat. We ask you to restore peace to their souls and wholeness to their bodies.
We remember those who have died in combat. We pray for the repose of their souls and the comfort of their families.
We remember the innocent victims of war:
We remember those imprisoned by war, including those at Guantanamo Bay. We pray for those innocent of wrongdoing, those cleared for release but with no freedom in sight, and those held more than a decade without trial.
We remember the children killed in our drone strikes:
and many more.
We remember civilians killed in war, including the 137,000 who died during and after the war in Iraq.
We remember the children of Syria, Nigeria, and everywhere conflict deprives a child of his or her right to live in a safe and nurturing environment.
We confess that evil is real and that it lurks within our hearts. We have been quick to condemn the violence of others while ignoring the deeds of our own hands.
We confess we have put nation above church, flag above cross. We acknowledge that Christ’s followers have but one Memorial Day, commemorated with bread and wine, not with beers and barbecue.
We confess we have failed to care for those we’ve sent into combat, for those who bear the physical and emotional scars of war. We acknowledge our duty to them, a duty that does not end when our attention turns elsewhere.
We confess we have not obeyed our Lord’s command to put away our swords. We acknowledge that war to end war is a fantasy, redemptive violence a myth, and that peace through conquest is an unattainable lie.
We confess that true freedom is not won by a soldier spilling someone else’s blood, but by a lamb who allowed his own blood to be spilled, refusing to take up arms.
We give thanks for the cross, God’s answer to a world addicted to violence. We mourn all whose lives have been sacrificed on the altar of war. We pray for the resolve to pursue another way, to “let go of the sword and take the hand of the Crucified One.” On this and every Memorial Day, we ask that we might prove ourselves worthy subjects of the Prince of Peace.