By Rev. J. Thomas Shelley, STS, Pastor
Zion (Shaffer’s) United Lutheran Church
© 1999


On Memorial Day of last year I found myself doing something which I had never done before; indeed, something which at one time I could not even have conceived of doing: conducting a service of worship.

Memorial Day has been largely abandoned to Veteran’s groups conducting military services in a few larger cemeteries. The response of the Church has been either to ignore the day altogether, or to so drape it in red, white, and blue that the nation–and not the Triune God–becomes the object of devotion and worship. It was probably because of the excesses of the latter that I found myself among the former–among those who ignored the day.

But years of passing by a cemetery on the way to worship time and again have had a profound effect upon me. “I believe in…the communion of saints”, always (to use Luther’s phrase) “most certainly true” has become more than just words in a Creed; but a constant, discernible presence of the faithful departed of every age.

So also have years of coming increasingly frequently to the Lord’s table had a profound effect upon me. The communion of saints is not found in a cemetery, but in, with, and under the Presence of the Living Christ; who is Himself present in, with, and under the bread and wine of the Holy Communion. We meet and greet the saints at the table of their Lord.

Yet it was reading a children’s book on the patriotic holidays that stirred me to action; for it was only then that I discovered that in the years just following the Civil War the day was observed by holding church services (which were filled) and not by going to stores (which were closed). Now–as with so many customs of our culture–Memorial Day’s observance has been almost entirely reversed. And in that reversal the day’s original and highest meaning has been lost.

So it was that on Memorial Day of 1998 a small congregation assembled to hear the Word and share the Supper and to enter the hallowed ground of
the cemetery for concluding prayers by a Civil War veteran’s grave.

Much to my surprise, it was one of the most moving services of the year. I was at first struck that the first folks to arrive were some of our oldest and very faithful women, some of whom began to attend to the Altar, even though, for some, it was not “their month.”

The Altar, since the earliest days of Christianity, has most often been constructed to resemble a sarcophagus, that is, an above ground burial vault. In the first centuries, services were held on the vaults of martyrs. The attention given to the Altar seemed very much like the attention given to the Civil War casualties’ graves in Columbus, Mississippi, that began the Memorial Day customs of “decorating” the monuments of the fallen; and, on a yet deeper level, the faithful love
shown by the women of the disciples who “came to the tomb early…”

Touching, too, was to see our Bill Clark and his family seated in a front pew. Bill–a Pennsylvania National Guardsman–had come in uniform.

But most touching of all was to watch the Clark family–even long after the service had concluded–visit each monument in both the old and new cemeteries that had been decorated with a miniature flag by the York County Veteran’s Council .

Willie and Jennie Clark will remember that this day is set aside for more than picnicking, fireworks, and shopping at Wal-Mart.

It is so blessed to obey God’s command to teach our children diligently–to instruct them in the meaning of each feast that we keep. For God spoke through Moses concerning the Passover: This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord, throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance forever…And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of Lord’s

And God later spoke through St. Paul concerning the greater Passover and the greater Deliverer:

Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us keep the feast.

As we keep the memorial of our Passover–our passing from Death to Life through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ–as we keep the
feast, we are assured of the Presence of the Risen Christ. And we are doubly assured of His presence as we instruct our children on the feast;
for then His final Beatitude is given to us:

Make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe
all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you
always, even to the end of time.

So let us keep the feast–hallow the day– and share the blessing! This holy Easter day; this holy Eastertide; this Memorial Day.

– Rev. J. Thomas Shelley, STS, Pastor
Zion (Shaffer’s) United Lutheran Church
Shaffer Road West of Shaffer’s Church Road
P.O. Box 38 • Seven Valleys PA 17360

Discussion - 2 Comments
  1. George Brown

    May 26, 2014  at 10:44 pm

    I believe that while well intentioned, the collective comments contained above relate little to the reality of where our country stands. Service Flags, Blue Star, for those who are serving, & Gold for those who in the words of Mr. Lincoln, have given their last full measure, & further are encoded in our law (Title 36, Section 901, US CODE), are precluded from being flown by several Home Owners Associations(HOA). Let me be clear, the law does not require anyone to do anything, what it does do is to allow those entitled under the Law to pay that last vestige of honor to those who have earned it. In my Association(Marwood Homeowners Association), the Declaration precludes the flying of any flag w/the exception of the US or State (MD) Flag. The Declaration is a piece of Boiler Plate, thrown together by the Developer, w/I am sure, little thought. However, the Governing Board, w/the backing of the Board President (Mr. Bobbie Martin) and the Community Management Corporation (CMC), refuse to Amend the Declaration. Some five years ago, I pointed out the Law (it does not pertain to HOAs, stated the President of the Board, & therefore ignored it)) & later cited the last words of SP/4 John Barnes (PLs see MOH Citation for SP/4,Barnes, 11 NOV, 1967, 173rd ABN BDE,D/1/503) I brought up his last words before the light went out: “will [or do] they care” trying to place the issue in context. The response I got from the President of the Board was “Oh, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” & his stated refusal to amend the Declaration. I fully understand that John Barnes is not the first young man to die in the service of this country, however if he lived in the Marwood Homeowners Association, his parents could not honor his memory w/ a Gold Star Flag. I raised this issue at the Association’s Annual meeting (it being the best time to amend the governing documents, since that requires a 75% majority). The President of the Board, & echoed by the Board was a refusal to consider the issue (this despite the fact that MD Law requires all issues brought by the membership to be considered at an Annual Meeting) Since it is Law I have raised the issue to the States Attorney for Prince George’s County, She states that since it is Federal Law she cannot touch it. Further, I wrote the US Attorney General, who refuses to enforce the Law, & the US Attorney for Southern Maryland who passed me to another Attorney, who stated that she did not have time for some silly flag, & hung-up.
    I therefore believe that the issue is, reflecting back on SP/4 Barnes, at Dak To 2,so very long ago “will they, or do they care.” I think about SP/4 Barnes last words every morning, & I believe that is the issue; doe we (in the sense of the collective we, care. The answer is not blowing in the wind, it is fact: the GAP (the Great American Public) does not care, does not give one wit. As long as they get their daily toast of the “Wasteland,” and/or son, father, brother, guys down at the end of their street, don’t have the serve (service is sort of an interesting word, but lets not string this out), no one really cares. We would not want to interrupt the Barbie, to honor those who have protected these United States & this American way of Life.
    George Brown
    LTC(R), USA


  2. Garland C Redmon

    Jun 01, 2014  at 10:44 pm

    Good afternoon,
    I refuse to be a viewed as a whiner and that’s the reason I never became involved with veteran clubs or societies or whatever they call themselves. I just spent another Memorial Day reflecting on what my life has been and what it may have meant. I just turned sixty-five, more than forty years since my involvement with the US military and i have no regrets except sometimes I wish I had stayed. At the time I believed that if I had re-enlisted I would have been sent straight back to war. Time proved me correct to a point.

    I have the greatest respect for the people that served in the great wars and would never Deny them that respect. Without them we might be speaking a different language and the 100 million people plus people that died in the thirty years from 1914 through 1944 might have been all in vain. My mantra is that we should never let the world forget the atrocities of Hitler and his henchmen.

    With all that said, I have to ask, where is the Memorial Day recognition of the men and women that served and died in the hell hole called Vietnam? Are we still the scum that doesn’t deserve to be treated as human? More than forty years later I still on occasion run into men that refuse to talk about this subject and I suspect it’s for those exact reasons; lack of recognition, and in spite of what some may think, for a job well done. Those of you that doubt me should ask a north Vietnamese or Vietcong soldier their opinion of the american soldier.

    Again, with all that said, I am now retired, again serving my country for many years working with defense contractors, I am seriously considering leaving America permanently. I look at the so-called leadership and see that we basically have none. The concept of a nanny state sickens me. I’m tired of massive amounts of tax money, mine include, that goes to support the masses supported by such means. I believe the vote of an American taxpayer is worth much than a phone!


Leave a Comment