28 May 2018

Memorial Poppies

May 25 was National Poppy Day here in the US. Perhaps you noticed some veterans in your grocery store this weekend, handing out little paper poppies. If you didn't, you either did not notice them, or they simply weren't there because, as has happened in some communities, they weren't allowed to hand out poppies. I fear both of these scenarios are due to a lack of knowledge of and appreciation for our history.

As a child, I remember approaching the veterans and receiving a little red poppy. I'm sure my mother had given me a dollar to put in their bucket as well, but I loved that little poppy and looked forward to seeing those men and their poppies every year. As an adult, in one city where I lived, the veterans would stand on the street corners with their poppies. I would pull up on my way to work and get my annual poppy.

The poppy means something, and the fact that we overlook this day, and that our children are completely ignorant of it, is a  terribly sad commentary.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row.
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

—John McCrae

The poem above is titled, "In Flanders Fields" and was written by a man who served on the front lines during World War I. From the American Legion website:
After World War I, the poppy flourished in Europe. Scientists attributed the growth to soils in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. From the dirt and mud grew a beautiful red poppy. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle...
America isn't the only country to celebrate National Poppy Day, but the American Legion asked that it be recognized in this country on the Friday before Memorial Day. It seems appropriate, considering the history of Memorial Day:
Memorial Day is a solemn day of remembrance for everyone who has died serving in the American armed forces. The holiday, originally known as Decoration Day, started after the Civil War to honor the Union and Confederate dead. (Source)
This blogger isn't typically one to be overly patriotic, so please do not misunderstand the point of this post. What grieves me, however, is the total ignorance with which we approach these remembrances. Everyone wants to live in America. It is, after all, the land of the free and home of the brave. At the same time, we prefer to be blissfully ignorant, or worse, deliberately disregard, the reason why and how this came to be such a country. Sure, we'll happily take the Monday off of work, but please don't remind us why we are given an extra day this weekend.

I'm not sure what's led to this lackadaisical approach. Perhaps it's as simple as the fact that so many young people, and children especially, do not actually know a veteran. For me, seeing the veterans in the grocery store brings an immediate smile to my face. They remind me of my grandfather, who served in World War II. These men served, and they served proudly. Many children today do not have the privilege of personally knowing such a person. They do not know their stories. They do not know their sacrifice. All they see is an old man in a funny hat. If only they would realize that it's so much more.

On Poppy Day and today, on Memorial Day, we ought to at least take a few moments to remember and thank God for those who served and lost their life doing so. Parents, if there is not a veteran in your family, perhaps there are some in your church who your children could get to know better. Let them share their stories. Let them share how they lost friends on the battlefield. Let your children understand the sacrifice that some of these men and women have given. If we instead choose ignorance about such things, then I daresay that we ought not decry the state of this nation. We ought not pretend to be outraged at its decline, and at the overwhelming lack of respect that is demonstrated by our young people.

Understanding the meaning behind Memorial Day or Poppy Day is hardly on the same level of importance as understanding the gospel, so again, please understand that I by no means am attempting to grow political or overly patriotic with this post. But if individuals cannot show respect in something as simple as esteeming those who have served and remembering those who have lost their lives serving, then how can we ever expect recognition of the glorious truth of the gospel and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ? The world's attitude toward such things is indifferent because of the self-centered, self-serving nature of our sinful selves. Sure, men and women died serving this country, but what about me? Yeah, yeah, Jesus died on a cross, but how does that help me?

The irony is that mankind's inward focus deprives him of the glory of salvation. Wanting a quick fix for this life's problems and a fast acquisition of comfort, man does not realize that the sacrifice Christ made for sinners does help him. Eternal life seems so far away, what about giving me something now? Blinded by sin, ignorance, and self, man does not realize that he is willfully ignoring the greatest help he could ever obtain.

On this Memorial Day, I hope that we Americans will take a few moments to remember those who have lost their lives serving this country so that we might live in the freedom we now have. Parents, I hope that you will take time with your children to explain this as well. Even more, though, on this day and everyday, I pray that we will all ask the Lord to help us take our eyes off of ourselves and fix them firmly on our Savior, and that we would boldly proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name.

Happy Memorial Day.

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