they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more;
A small cemetery sits behind Trinity Lutheran Church in Washingtonville, Ohio, a small village of 800 or so people that straddles both Columbiana and Mahoning Counties. The cemetery was a stop on a tour of the area that Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. Kari Lankford, gave me after I had preached at the other congregation she serves, St. Paul Lutheran Church in nearby Leetonia.
What fascinated me was the age of the headstones. Although some had been refurbished, many were in various stages of deterioration. But stacked neatly in a corner of the cemetery were several that had been removed from their original location by storms and strong winds. Since no one can seem to find the cemetery’s records, these markers are destined to remain forever detached from the people they were meant to memorialize.
I became filled with a sense of profound sadness, primarily because many of these were monuments of veterans that had served in the Revolutionary War. Their historical significance has apparently been desecrated. It was as if to say, “That was yesterday’s war, let’s move on to the next one.”
For some unusual reason, on this Memorial Day my mind drifted to the image of those neglected gravestones at that cemetery, while elsewhere, in many and various ways, we dutifully honor the memory of those who died in service to our country.
Let me be unequivocally clear; I am categorically opposed to war. I find the praise lavished on America’s military servicemen and women by our current society to be, in large part, superficial and disingenuous. The patriotism displayed at sporting events by the singing of God Bless America and jets flying over stadiums borders on the extreme. A less glamorous, more realistic show of support might be to visit a Veterans Administration hospital sometime and spend time with the numerous patients noticeably missing limbs and bearing the not so evident psychological scars – lifelong reminders of the incalculable human cost of conflict. They are the living headstones of today.
I was also today drawn to the verse from Micah cited above. The verse is also repeated verbatim in Isaiah 2:4. A sword is a potent symbol of military efforts, while a plowshare symbolizes agricultural life and community. I firmly believe that at our very core, the most basic human desire is to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.
Yet what is going on today was no different than in Micah’s time. The vision of swords being beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is a nice idea, but all throughout history it has been ridiculed by our experience of the everyday reality of the world. This is a world dominated by the sword.
The sentiment of Micah’s beautiful verse is further disdained by the cold hard reality of our own lives. We respond too easily with hatred and violence, too easily with division and strife. We see it in our political discourse and in the language we use for one another. In short, we see it everywhere.
Memorial Day is an appropriate occasion to respectfully honor the sacrifices that those who have lost their lives in battle have made for this country. It is also an opportunity to further the consciousness of the absurdity of war, and honor the memory of fallen by working more diligently to find peaceful solutions to conflict. Let us be open to the invitation to strengthen ourselves in God’s word. In so doing, we become witnesses to a great hope, a transformative hope, a hope that will one day live out the reality that we expect to be fulfilled among us – a life of peace.