Today is the Sunday before Memorial Day and we all have an opportunity to pause and remember the brave men and women who have gone before us and paid the ultimate sacrifice to procure and preserve our cherished national freedoms.
Originally designed as a day to commemorate those who gave their lives during the Civil War, both Union and Confederate, it was later expanded, especially after World War I, to include those who had given their lives in other conflicts as well.
As the 20th century progressed, it became a time for all of us to remember those we love, particularly family members who have preceded us in death.
As a pastor. I spend a great deal more time in cemeteries than does the average person. As a consequence, I become familiar with and even comfortable in them, and can appreciate the beauty and poignant emotions they represent.
As I walk through a cemetery, I often wonder about the life stories of each person laid to rest there. I think about families and loved ones, about careers and opportunities taken advantage of, and of opportunities missed.
Often the headstone will give one more of an indication about the person buried there than just a name; his or her life and and deepest values.
Pictures of farmland, words of devotion, such as “loving wife,” and especially the older tradition of epitaphs give clues about the person’s faith, values and cherished commitments.
As I was preparing for my first pastorate, I went to visit a man who had been in ministry for years. This man had been responsible for hiring hundreds of people as he served in a nearly 10,000 member church. As part of my new position I would have hiring responsibilities, and I wanted to glean from him how he went about things.
He told me that he had a practice to ask each during an interview what he or she wanted for an epitaph.
I thought that a brilliant idea and picked up on that practice. For me, it seems to distill into a sentence what values you cherish the most, what goals and purposes you hope to achieve.
As part of each memorial service, I encourage those of us still living to gain courage and direction from those who’ve gone before us. good friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, often says, “Living each day as though it were your last leads to a life well lived.” Kris Allen in his popular song, “Live like we’re dying,” captures this idea.
This weekend I hope we all take advantage of the opportunities before us to pause and recall our nation’s military and our loved ones who’ve passed before us. I hope that we remember the things about their lives that were good and right and just, and let them lead us on in our living. I hope that we live to a goal and take advantage of the 86,400 seconds we have every day.
By the way, I want my epitaph to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Contact him at 509-525-1093 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.