(Posted May 27, 2016)
It struck me this week, as I began forming this coming Sunday’s message and considering our Gospel, that there’s a common ground in this reading about the Centurion who comes to Jesus to heal his servant, and the numerous men and women who gave up their lives in the service of this country. This Memorial Day weekend, after all, is about those who ultimately gave their lives in service.
Both the Centurion and, so very often, those who died far from home, knew what it was to be an outsider. The Centurion, a non-Jewish commander of 100 men, was in place in Capernaum to ensure that the peace was kept and taxes could be collected. He was a man of power, but none of his power could make him a person accepted by the community. Despite the fact that he was ethnically and religiously a world apart from the resident Jewish population, when crisis struck the servant to whom he was very much attached, he did not hesitate to ask Jesus, whose healing powers he had heard about, to help him. This soldier, this Centurion, lay down his power, declared himself unworthy, and reached out for help. What Jesus did for him reached far beyond compassion. It became action.
Likewise, I think about those who, over centuries of war and conflict, surrendered their most precious possession- their lives. I think as well about the stories of the origin of the very first Memorial Day tradition. According to legend, it took place after the end of the Civil War, in the deep South. A group of women came to the cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers. While they laid the flowers on the graves, they looked over to a forlorn section of the cemetery where the graves of Union soldiers lay, barren of any tribute. Here on Southern soil these men had died, far from home, outsiders in their own country. The women thought for a moment, moved by compassion for these unknown men. But they did not stop at compassion alone. They headed over to the Union graves, and decorated them with flowers, just as they imagined the mothers of these boys would have wanted someone to do. In its most potent form, compassion leads to loving, healing action. This Sunday we will honor the Christian spirit that transforms our caring into actions that emulate Jesus’ healing openness to those who others might have considered to be outsiders. --- Pastor Pat Kriss