Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (Jn. 17:11)

4,962 is the number for tomorrow. At least it was the number yesterday of American servicemen and women who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last six years. And tomorrow is Memorial Day: a day for remembering our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

Remembering should come naturally to us in the church, since we are meant to be a community of rememberers. Not only is it our daily work to follow our Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me,” we also remember all kinds of people (their needs, wants, shortcomings, accomplishments, and thanksgivings) in prayer every day here and in churches everywhere. And from time to time we also manage to fulfill another meaning of the term “re-member” when we help put something back together again that had broken or fallen apart, be it a relationship, a person’s broken heart, or a building in need of repair – all of which have come within the purview of the church from time to time.

As a society, America is not so good at remembering any more. The first Memorial Day was called for in 1868 by a veterans’ organization of the Union Army with the intention that soldiers’ graves should be strewn with flowers. So much needed remembering in those years after the Civil War. Not just the sacrifice of that horde of dead soldiers, blue and grey, but the nation itself, the ruined South, the lives of the survivors. So much had been dis-membered. So much re-membering had to be done. And that awful war had surely left no one without important things to remember. In our own parish was the commanding general of the Battle of Gettysburg - George Meade, who lived nearby on 19th Street. How difficult must his remembering have been.

But these days the number of our dead is not so vast and our connections to those souls, in general, far more distant. We take note of the number, thank God we are not among them, and get on with our three day weekend.

Is it the case that we have gotten more comfortable with dismembering that with remembering? We seem to be experts at it. Look at our political processes, our communities, the racial divide in cities like ours. Look at our churches, no, look at our Episcopal church where we have decided to become experts at the legal mechanisms for dis-membering one another, led by our bishops, whose chief work this has often become. No wonder America struggles to remember the fallen on Memorial Day. No wonder the church struggles to put back together anything anymore that has broken or fallen apart. How can we become communities of remembering when we spend our time and energy dis-membering so much?

It would seem that Jesus anticipated his disciples’ predilection for dis-membering, and knew that they would struggle to be rememberers, and knew that this struggle would put them in peril.

He prayed: “Protect them… so that they may be one, as we are one…. While I was with them, I protected them… I guarded them, and not one of them was lost….”

Jesus knows how likely his disciples are to become dismembered from one another without him around; how likely they are to go their separate ways, fight their separate battles, form their separate churches. And he was right.

And so, as he is preparing to make his way to the Cross and to his death, he prays, and asks God the Father to make them re-memberers.

I have made your name known to them, whom you gave to me: make them rememberers.

They know that everything I have came from you, and I gave it to them: make them rememberers.

While I was with them I protected them: make them rememberers.

I have given them your word: make them rememberers.

The world hates them because they do not belong to the world: make them rememberers.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth: make them rememberers.

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world: make them rememberers.

Jesus not only prayed his prayer, he also left it to the collective mind of the church as a means to remember. But our deftness at dismembering still outpaces our willingness or ability to remember.

So we come to a glorious weekend of sunshine and breezes, good beach days and barbecue weather… and a number: 4,962.

4, 962 lives to remember. The sad irony being that it is our ineptitude as rememberers that brings us the necessity of setting aside a day for remembering the lives that have been dismembered in our name, for our sake.

Perhaps our facility to dismember will always outpace our ability as rememberers. But for a day or two, it’s good to stop and join our prayers to Jesus’ prayer that we all might be one: remembered and rememberers. After all, what else could possibly prevent that terrible number from climbing too much higher?

Let us pray. O Almighty God, who canst bring good out of evil and makest even the wrath of men to turn to thy praise: We give thee humble thanks for the memory and good example of those who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Accept their sacrifice in the cause of righteousness. Teach us to live together in charity and peace; and grant, we beseech thee, that the nations of the world may henceforth be united in a firmer fellowship for the promotion of thy glory and the good of all mankind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
24 May 2009
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on May 24, 2009 .