My nephew is a Marine. Right now, he’s working at an embassy providing protection to some of our foreign ambassadors. If you’ve watched the news lately, you’ll know that’s not the safest line of work, and I’m beyond proud of him for risking his life to protect others. And yet, I wish with everything I have that he didn’t have to do it. On this Memorial Day, as we remember those who have given their lives for us, let’s pray as well for the coming of a day when that never has to happen again.

God of All Peace, guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will we might truly discover your peace. Amen.

Amos 5:18-24 

18 Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
     That day will be darkness, not light.
19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
     only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
    and rested his hand on the wall
     only to have a snake bite him.
20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
     pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
     your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
     I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
     I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
     I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
     righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

“Your Peace Will Make Us One” — Audrey Assad (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
You are speaking truth to power, You are laying down our swords
Replanting every vineyard ’til a brand new wine is poured
Your peace will make us one

I’ve seen You in our home fires burning with a quiet light
You are mothering and feeding in the wee hours of the night
Your gentle love is patient, You will never fade or tire
Your peace will make us one

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Your peace will make us one

In the beauty of the lilies, You were born across the sea
With a glory in Your bosom that is still transfiguring
Dismantling our empires ’til each one of us is free
Your peace will make us one

When you hear the words “let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream,” what do you think of? I certainly don’t think of Amos 5:18-24. Instead, I think of Martin Luther King standing on the front porch of the Lincoln Memorial: “No, no, we are not satisfied and will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Today, we hear those as hopeful words. Powerful words. Strangely happy words. 

But, those were not happy words at all back when Amos first wrote them. They were terrifying words. “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! That day will be darkness, not light!” Yikes! This is not happy talk at all! “It will be as if you managed to escape from a lion only to get mauled by a bear. It will be as if you ran for the safety of your home only to have a snake bite you when you sat down to rest.” What’s going on here? What is God doing? 

Maybe I’m toning things down a bit, but I think God’s reminding us that we’re not quite there yet. He’s spurring us on to something more righteous and more just and more holy than what we’ve got today. It seems to me that God’s not looking for mere drips of equality or trickles of peace. His mission is much bigger than that. He wants raging torrents of a compassion that see all of life as sacred and all people as truly made in his image.

Which brings me to Memorial Day. On every holiday that we celebrate our armed forces, my mind wanders back to this passage from Amos, and I remember the story of the very first Veterans Day. It began as a celebration of the end of the Great War. It was a celebration of peace. That first Veterans Day bravely and honestly recognized the horrors of war and the very real and terrifying sacrifices endured by the folks who fought them. On that day back in 1919, everyone rejoiced that justice had finally rolled like water and righteousness like a mighty stream, but they wept at the cost.

Maybe it’s because movies and video games have desensitized us to the horrors of war or maybe it’s because we’ve made war into a game of politics, but whatever the case, it seems that we often remember the sacrifices of our military personnel only to forget that those sacrifices have real and lasting consequences. T. S. Eliot once described those who were lucky enough to return from World War I as little more than “hollow men.” We see them on our street corners, in our rehab centers, and in our unemployment offices. Sometimes, if they made the ultimate sacrifice, we see them only in our memories. To this day, my uncle suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a consequence of his time in Vietnam when he was one of only ten out of an entire platoon who survived one run across enemy lines. To all of this, Amos’s God cries out: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” 

So, this Memorial Day, I encourage you to pray passionately for those who have served and who still serve. I encourage you to remember all those who suffered and sacrificed their lives for others. And, I encourage you to do so as a people, like Amos, who will not be satisfied while there is still war, violence, injustice, poverty, depression, or suicide in our world. Let us instead remember our friends and family who served and still serve by looking forward to the day when we won’t have to add any more names to our Memorial Day lists, when at last we’ll see Christ pounding our swords and spears into plowshares and pruning hooks. Let us pray for that promised Day of the Lord when the answer to war is not more war and the answer to violence is not more violence but when the answer instead is the mutual recognition that we are all children of God made in the image of God and healed by the Son of God — for what a beautiful day that will be.

Closing Prayer

God of Peace, may your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven — sooner rather than later, we hope. Amen.