When I was called into the ministry, I followed the Biblical example of Abraham and literally marched of my map. After college, I moved 1000 miles away to seminary. Thereafter, I served the Lord in accordance with His calling in three different states, all before retiring after my final pastorate here in beautiful east Tennessee.
As I did, most Memorial Day weekends were spent centered on church activities; although, in the latter years, I intentionally made more time for family activities. These days, I find that my plans are more centered on family than other concerns.
And yet, this year, on Memorial Day weekend, with my three children and their families preoccupied with other plans (mostly associated with the end of the school year), I found that I had some free time. And I decided to put it to good use.
When my wife and I retired, we moved to an address that happens to be located on a road bearing my last name. I have begun investigating the origins of the name, and have concluded that I may well be related to the Jacksons for whom our road is named; but if we are, it is clearly in the distant past.
(Both the progenitor Jackson for whom our road is named and my own ancestors came from North Carolina about the same time. Given enough time of my own, I hope to resolve this historical enigma.)
The point of all of this is that, here while back, I felt led to volunteer to help out with the upkeep of the old Jackson Cemetery located at the end of our road. But I must confess that my motives are not totally altruistic.
You see, my own forebears showed up in my home county in Georgia over two hundred years ago. I am the first one to leave that community in all that time. Hence, the vast majority of my immediate ancestors (male and female) are all buried in one of three cemeteries, all less than five miles apart.
Given that my home church requires a person to be a member to be buried in their (increasingly crowded) cemetery; and given the fact that, as a minister of the Gospel, I moved my membership to whatever church I happened to serve at the time, I no longer qualify to buried next to my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Leaving me with a quandary as to where I myself would one day be interred.
Having pondered this matter, I decided to approach the caretakers of the nearby Jackson Cemetery and see whether or not if I helped to maintain it, I might one day be permitted to be buried there. The response was affirmative; and thus it was that I committed to cut the grass on Memorial Day in advance of the cemetery’s annual reunion in which the decedents of deceased persons gather for a memorial observance the first Saturday in June.
Now, do not get me wrong. I am not looking for affirmation here. As I have asserted, my motives were somewhat selfish. But I spent some five hours, cutting and weed-eating and raking the cemetery all by myself this past Memorial Day.
And yet, as the Lord so often does, He found a way to bless me in the process. In cutting the grass and trimming the headstones, I happened across a marker that identified the grave as that of a sailor, a “Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class” in World War Two who “gave all he had in service to his country” and who was also “buried at sea” in March of 1943. Clearly, the ground below the marker was hallowed but empty.
For just as clearly, the marker, situated as it was between the headstones of his parents and grandparents, had been placed there in lieu of his own body. And thus, the message it displayed was impactful!
As I continued along, trimming the row of graves in which this stone lie, I found myself reflecting on the significance of the marker I had just encountered. Here I was, a relatively secure husband, father, and grandfather, with little to no threat to that security, enjoying my retirement and doing precious little beyond what was required of me.
And who had made this possible? In part, a young man laid out before me who had never even had the opportunity to marry, let alone have children or grandchildren. And who also never had the opportunity to have an education or a job or a career. In short, I had everything he had not ever had. And yet, without him I would never have had anything I ever had!
Suffice it to say that I was moved by this thought. I stopped my trimming; and made my way back to his marker. There I paused and thanked both the Lord and this young man for making possible all the blessings I have ever enjoyed, I enjoy today, and I ever will enjoy!
I will never know that young man this side of Heaven. But I will know him there. And once I do, I intend to thank him personally. After all, without the sacrifice of him and so many like him, what would I have this Memorial Day? Very little to be sure!
The Bible tells us that Jesus once said that “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” He proved that when He laid down His own life for our redemption. And in so doing, He laid down, not only His life, but His gauntlet!
I thank God for the untold numbers of people who have sacrificed for me to have all that I now have. And more than ever I find myself determined to give something back! As God gives me opportunity, may I do just that!