Yesterday the United States of America celebrated Memorial Day. In the process Christians and churches across the nation also played a major role in the continuance of the American Civil Religion, as Robert Bellah states, that system of beliefs that stands next to the established faith of many Americans. It is built on rituals of remembrance that build allegiance and loyalty to the state and seeks to unify citizens under one nation. As part of this celebration the church has largely divorced any understanding of Jesus as relevant for how we live in this world and has instead supplanted Jesus with the soldier.
Churches across the nation yesterday celebrated that soldiers died for their peace and freedom, and that without them we would have neither. But in reality that is not what the Christian in any orthodox understanding of the faith would believe. For the Christian the events of the passion, the crucifixion, and the subsequent resurrection of Jesus give her a much fuller understanding of peace and freedom that are not tied to national wars, and memorials. Paul the first great theologian of the Church remarked on the Cross and Resurrection stating in his letter to the Colossians, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:15)” What Paul was reminding the Church was that the powers and authorities, the nations if you will are not the ultimate. Further, their understandings of justice and peace come from killing and intimidation, our God gave us peace by becoming a martyr. When Jesus died on the Cross he showed the limits of earthly justice. Rome wanted peace, and to keep peace they executed an innocent man, even after declaring him innocent. As the church we must remember that we may enjoy our nation, but our nation is not our ultimate allegiance, nor is it worthy of our worship. Nations will continually act for self-preservation, and enrichment and these will come at a cost for a Christian. To continue to state that Jesus only died for our souls is a gross bastardization of the power of the Gospel.
The term Gospel in and of itself was news of a battle being won. The Gospel represents that peace exists because God has given it freely. It declares freedom is ours because God has offered it. It also shows that radical love and inclusion are the ways of this God, and as His people we should not be known more for our patriotism in the US then for our radical love of the alien, the enemy and the people who even disagree with us. Jesus loved everyone, and he died for everyone so that all could be included in His Kingdom. That Kingdom exists here and now, and to divorce the reality of the Kingdom to celebrate a nation is to neuter God from truly doing the miraculous in His people, no matter their nation.
On Memorial day instead we should be reminded that Jesus extends real peace and freedom, and it comes not at the cost of our family members on foreign shores but comes when we can welcome and love the stranger, and begin to love and heal our relationships with our enemies.