The Tragedy of Patriotic Worship: We Have a Different Memorial Day

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Gonna lay down my sword and shield

Down by the riverside…
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

It’s that time of year again.

This Sunday, many Christian congregations in this country will bow at a different altar.

There will be no cross.

Or if there is one, it will be draped in red, white, and blue.

Interwoven into our American summers are national celebrations that often seep into our times of worship. This is one of the last vestiges of America’s cultural religion, and the church appears to be offering it a safe haven. The specific tragedy of Memorial Day worship is that it assigns a Christian value to the thoroughly nationalistic act of dying in service to one’s country. Therefore, to speak out against its liturgical observance is an egregious act of sacrilege to the American church as it clings to a dying American exceptionalism which claims Almighty God as the supreme commander of its military conquests.

But to the true church of Christ, the idea of Memorial Day worship is really a nonsensical exercise. As people who follow the call of Christ on our lives, rather than giving in to the patriotic pull on our worship gatherings, I think we should resist the temptation at all costs.

  1. Resist the temptation to conflate patriotism, especially American patriotism, with the gospel of Christ. With all of its benefits, the United States of America is still an earthly kingdom built on the sand; one that has destroyed life of its citizens and its enemies in service of the American god. We serve a higher throne.
  2. Resist the temptation to shift the focus of a worship service from the Christian story to a civil observance. When the Christian God is not the subject of our worship, our worship ceases to be Christian. The liturgy unites us as God’s covenant people, called out from every nation. To find ourselves identifying with an earthly kingdom instead of Christ’s kingdom is a supreme act of idolatry.
  3. Resist the temptation to sing patriotic songs, preach patriotic sermons, show patriotic video clips, or choose any other acts of worship that tell a nationalistic story instead of a Christian one.
  4. Resist the temptation to suggest that love of country goes hand in hand with love of God. Love of God always comes before civil allegiance.
  5. Resist the temptation to take Holy Scripture out of context in attempt to baptize nationalistic fervor. For instance…2 chron
  6. Resist the temptation to align military objective with the salvation of Christ. Make no mistake: true freedom is found through the sacrificial love of Jesus, not through war.
  7. Resist the temptation to assume that the U.S. military is right and good in everything it does.
  8. Resist the temptation to speak, print, share, or tweet this kind of thing…jesussoldier

Because war maintains an unfortunate and undeniable presence in our world that affects many of us, we must interpret it in light of the gospel. I would suggest the following points are the pastoral duty of all Christians in a war-torn world, and not just a few times during summer vacation.

  1. Acknowledge the deep pain felt by those among us who have suffered loss through military action, and the anxiety of those who are a world away from someone they love.
  2. Care for those who have suffered the profound physical and mental effects of war.
  3. Remember that Christ came to restore the cosmos as far as the curse is found, and that all earthly kingdoms will pass away when he comes to reign.
  4. Grieve over the lives we’ve taken as well as those we’ve lost. All life is a sacred gift. Our enemies also bear the image of the Creator.
  5. Pray and work for peace among the nations.

Above all, it would do us well to remember that, as people shaped by the Christian story, we have our own Memorial Day. It falls on a Friday in Spring, not a Monday in Summer. And instead of lives lost serving the selfish interests of an earthly kingdom, it memorializes a Life lost in service to God the Father and the entire world.

May we never forget.


Photos:
Flickr, Karah Levely-Rinaldi, creative commons 2.0

Flickr, jubileelewis, creative commons 2.0
F
licker, tamiko holling, creative commons 2.0

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