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by Kay Hereford Voorhees
based on 2 Sam. 1:1-4, 11-12, 17-27
It should have been just another battle. Israel had won plenty of battles over the Philistines -- King Saul, his son Jonathan, and their friend David were ALL top-notch commanders. Any one of them could lead the army of Israel to victory. Granted, Saul's judgement had been slipping ever since he'd started suspecting that David was a threat to his throne. But his paranoia shouldn't have caused him to lose -- even if he DID think that David was fighting against him. It SHOULD have been JUST ANOTHER BATTLE for the mighty king. He wasn't supposed to DIE. And, dear God, precious Jonathan. A truer friend could not be found. He and David were supposed to have grown old together. Now he was gone. How the mighty have fallen!
After the tears, the only thing to do is remember. When the war is over, all the bodies buried -- remembering continues. And somehow, the memories give life. As if remembrance is a form of resurrection.
Think about that word, "remember."
- To re-member is to bring back together that which has been dismembered -- to put the pieces together again.
- To re-member is also to re-unite one who has been separated -- to bring them back into membership, into community.
The Hebrew word for remember adds to our understanding: Its ancient root means "to mark so as to be recognized." In other words, to be remembered is to be made known. When a Jew mentioned the name of a dead person, that person's BEING became REAL in that moment.
So David re-membered Saul and Jonathan with a song. Although Saul had become his dire enemy and Jonathan his dearest friend, David remembered the best of both men. He called their names: "Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!" He sang of their unity, he praised their valor. Saul, he sang, brought wealth to the nation. And Jonathan brought love to David.
Through David's sorrowful song, the fallen soldiers were marked so as to be recognized -- they were brought back into community -- re-membered.
And guess what? The remembering didn't stop with David. He taught the song of the fallen soldiers to all the people of Judah. Somebody wrote it down in the book of Jashar. Later, someone else put it into the book we know today as 2 Samuel. Years went by, generations passed, centuries transformed the world. Yet still, even today, you and I remember the two great soldiers. When we hear their song, our hearts cry out with David, "How the mighty have fallen!" And somehow, because we remember their lives, they live again.
Memory does bring life. If you've been to the Viet Nam Veterans' Memorial in Arlington, you know that it's a place of holy remembrance. The slabs of black granite, known as The Wall, bear the names of soldiers killed or missing in action in that war. You see the names, one after another, row upon row upon row: William B. Turner - Clayton D. Whitcher - Brian J. Williams - Denis J. Zimprich - Paul W. Anthony - Troy H. Batterson - Myron W. Berg - Larry Lee Brown - Richard Torres Calderson - Peter K. J. Christian - Larry W. Douglas -- the list goes on and on, each name belonging to some mother's child, some person's friend.
If you stand at the wall, seeing your own face reflected behind those names, you FEEL the lives that they gave. Doesn't matter if you never knew a soul who fought in that conflict -- now you know them all. And even though you can't possibly read every single name, you ARE aware of every single life.
It's like that song that David wrote for Saul & Jonathan -- the re-membering makes the soldiers become a part of you.
What a sacred thing it is to remember the fallen soldier -- NOT because all soldiers are necessarily heroes, NOT because all who give their lives die for a good cause -- but because IN HANDLING THE MEMORY OF GOD-GIVEN LIVES, WE PARTICIPATE WITH GOD IN THE HEALING OF THE WORLD.
To re-member IS to put the broken pieces back together, to make members again of those who were missing. Remembrance is resurrection!
So what's the purpose of this resurrection remembering? What happens when memory lets fallen soldiers live?
I think there's an answer back in 1982, at the dedication of The Wall. There in the crowd is a retired soldier. Specialist John Beam carries a sign that reads, "I am a Viet Nam veteran. I like the memorial. And if it makes it difficult to send people into battle again ... I like it even more."
Remembering the soldiers of any war -- friends and enemies alike -- calling out their names, singing their songs, or just thinking about the fact that they fought -- does make it difficult to send people into battle again. The voices of the dead cry out to us for peace.
It IS a sacred thing to remember the soldiers, to allow their lives to place a claim upon us. We are PRIVILEDGED to pursue peace on their behalf.
Listen -- perhaps we'll hear the strains of a song sung in honor of the mighty who have fallen. Perhaps we'll hear echoes of their names, engraved as much in memory as on memorials. Count them, feel their presence, and re-member.
From the Civil War: Five hundred twenty-six thousand, three hundred thirty-two American soldiers, North and South, dead. How the mighty have fallen! Remember them. (silence)
From WWI: One hundred sixteen thousand, five hundred sixteen American soldiers dead. How the mighty have fallen! Remember them.
From WWII: Four hundred five thousand, three hundred ninety-nine American soldiers dead. Total war dead from all sides, some 35 million. How the mighty have fallen! Remember them.
From the Korean conflict: thirty-six thousand, nine hundred thirteen American soldiers dead. How the mighty have fallen! Remember them.
From the Viet Nam War: fifty-eight thousand, one hundred seventy-seven thousand American soldiers dead. Total war dead from all sides, some 3 million, 434 thousand. How the mighty have fallen! Remember them.
From the Persian Gulf war: 375 American soldiers dead.
(From the crisis in Kosovo: ? From the wars on our streets and in our schools: ? )
How the mighty have fallen! Remember them.
Remember them all, from every battle, on every side, and for their sake join with God in the healing of the world.
Frank Schaefer, for JavaCasa Resources and the Desperate Preacher's Site, 1999