Musing on Memorial Day

#growmeastory henri nouwen memorial day pentecost sowing seeds May 29, 2023

By Paul Roberts

It was an interesting convergence of commemorative events and observances for me this past weekend: for American citizens, Memorial Day began as a day to remember those have given their lives in military service to their country, and the day has expanded to include an entire weekend to remember any family members that have passed away; for those following the Christian liturgical calendar, Sunday was the beginning Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, “a time when the Spirit of God filled the universe, telling of a new heaven and a new earth, inaugurating a season of joy, hope and mission.” (Eternal Seasons by Henri Nouwen, Michael Ford, editor)

I recently wrote in my morning Sowing Seeds journal that I “hesitate to write of things of God because I feel I begin to border on arrogance when I do.” I feel inadequate, trying not to feel arrogant, if I write of how Memorial Day impacts me emotionally when I have no immediate family members that come to mind as our nation commemorates the losses of so many. I don’t want to be so arrogant as to assume that I can speak for anyone other than myself on the last Monday of May. I struggled to find the right words to use when talking about the feelings that arose when my mother shared a picture with me and my siblings of the flowers she placed at my father’s gravesite last week. “Beautiful…blessed…lovely,” are some of the adjectives we used to describe the photo, but those are not the words we would have used to describe our emotions in the spring of 2019 when we gathered to lay him to rest. Time has eased the sense of loss, but has not removed it.

I wonder at the variety of emotions that must have been present on the day of Pentecost, when, according to the gospel writers, fifty short days after Jesus’ ascension - leaving his followers for the last time - they gathered in the upper room. Time had eased their sense of loss, but not removed it. The experiences they had of Jesus’ death, resurrection, his appearances to them - “Put your hand in my side, Thomas” - had certainly informed their thinking, but I’m not sure they all were seeing life as “beautiful, blessed, lovely.”

Writer Henri Nouwen tells me that “Without Pentecost the Christ-event - the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus - remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about, and reflect on,” and that “Pentecost lifts the whole mystery of salvation out of its peculiarities and makes into something universal, embracing all peoples, all countries, all seasons, and all eras.”

It’s that “universal, embracing all peoples” experience that I am attempting to write about on this Memorial Day. It is good to be reminded of the ties I have to the fellow citizens of this town, region, state, nation, hemisphere, world. It is good to recognize the lives lost, to celebrate the lives still to be lived, and to worship the Creator in this sacrament of the present moment. 

Trusting you have had at least one beautiful, blessed, lovely moment this week,



Thoughts on Memorial Day observances? Pentecost Sunday observances? The convergence of the two? Share with our community. 

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