Our spring sermon series has been built around the texts of some of the great hymns of the faith. Members of the church suggested the hymns, and seven with strong Scriptural references were chosen for the weeks between Easter and the beginning of the summer season.
One of the requested hymns is “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and it will provide the theme for this Sunday’s sermon with the preaching text from Revelation 14 and its image of the grapes of wrath. Come Sunday as we explore our lives and our times lived out in the realities of wrath and grace.
In preparing for the sermon, I put together a short video designed to remind us of the hymn and its context. You may view the video here (or scroll down to the bottom of this post).
As you can see, a lot of the work of creating the video had to do with finding photos of Civil War soldiers. Thank you, Google Images. As I collected the images for the video collage, I was struck by how the work of Matthew Brady and others in those early days of photography captured the humanity of those who were willing to “die to make men free.” View the video again and look into the eyes of those who looked into the photographer’s lens over a century and a half ago.
When I decided to include the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as one of the hymns for the sermon series, it seemed obvious that the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend would be the appropriate Sunday for the message.
Memorial Day is one of the more schizophrenic U.S. holidays. It was first observed in the years following the Civil War as a time to honor those who, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “gave the last full measure of devotion.” First called Decoration Day, men and women, war veterans and children, would gather in the town cemetery to decorate the graves of brothers and fathers, husbands and sons, who had, again as Lincoln said in the Second Inaugural, borne the battle.
In time, parades were added and the day became more festive and less somber. Today it mostly marks the beginning of the summer season with blow-out sales at the big box stores and traffic jams on the roads to shore and mountain. More people show up for the super sale at Wal-Mart than to decorate the graves of the honored dead.
On Monday Becky and I will be on the front lawn of LPC watching the Memorial Day parade winding its way through the borough. We’ll enjoy a day off. At some point during the day, I am going to watch the video again. I will look into the eyes of those fathers and sons, brothers and husbands, struck once more by their humanity. I will be reminded that war is always a thing of the dispensation of wrath.
I will remember, too, that grace breaks into the dispensation of wrath, and that we are called , as partakers of grace, to heed Lincoln’s call: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
See you Sunday