We rolled slowly along the street, meandering our way to what would soon be two new graves dug in Arlington National Cemetery—two of 400,000 already grassed green.
Our vehicle stopped.
Six men in crisp Army uniform stood in front of us, facing the awning where we would memorialize and pray for our friend’s father, Sgt. Glen Elste, and his wife of more than 50 years, Diane, who preceded her husband in death 10 years ago.
As the beginning of the full military honors funeral began, white-gloved hands carried two brown boxes. One hand stretched over. One hand stretched under. Both hands were strong but tender with reverence.
Sgt. Glen Elste fought as a combat infantryman in Patton’s Third Army in Europe, 1944-45. risked his life in WWII fighting for freedom, not only for our country but for the world. He survived and was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the French Legion of Honor.
War is hell, Glen told me once. Most of us have no idea. But the truth is, we live in a fallen world stained by sin. And the stain of sin creates blood stains on the earth as we kill with swords, guns, bombs, and grenades. And fast-flying, piercing, soul-murdering words. All in order to grab power and control. To win. We can be such a proud lot, acting so self-righteously.
And then there are those who believe they must serve others. That they must risk their lives. That they must die and watch their friends die right in front of their eyes. Because they believe the old adage, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Because they believe that there is still something worth living and fighting and even dying for . . .
The opportunity to live free of tyranny. The opportunities we still have today to live freely, to speak freely, to decide when we shall stand or kneel or sit. To leave or to stay. All our freedoms have been secured with the highest cost of blood.
Yes, war is hell. Fighting and dying is hell. I’ve seen the broken bodies and broken minds and broken souls of veterans returning home. I’ve treated them in a Veteran’s Administration hospital. I’ve heard their stories and cried with them. And I never once heard any of these men and women say they wish they’d never served our country and the world for the cause of freedom.
Just like Glen.
The flag was unfolded over the two brown boxes of ashes.
Slowly. Quietly. Reverently.
God-honoring, man-honoring words were spoken by the Army Chaplain.
The men refolded the flag in a three-pointed shape until the last revealed white stars against dark blue. The sergeant received the flag between his two, white-gloved palms.
Then, he turned and faced the son.
My ungloved hand held back a sob as I watched the man who serves us all lower himself, kneeling before the son of the father. With hushed voice and bowed head, he said:
‘On behalf of the President of the United States, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.’
And then the man stood and saluted the son.
The holy hush was palpable. Only sniffles broke the silence. Tissues dabbed eyes and noses.
I thought about the Son of God serving His Father by serving us all. By shedding his blood and dying so we might live. By paying the highest price to pay our sin-debt and set us free. By rising again to conquer death—that promise we who place our faith in Him will have also—an eternal life where there is no more war, no more sorrow, no more tears.
As for now? We are a fallen people, wrecked by sin saved only by Christ. Only following God’s way lessens our burdens and expands our freedoms.
As for our nation? No nation will ever get God’s will for freedom perfectly.
But I do believe some nations come more closely to God’s will than others. I do believe there are some forms of government more closely aligned with God’s heart than others.
As for me. I still love my country. And I will always stand and cover my heart in respect for those who serve, who have served, for all who risk their lives and will continue to do so. For all who have given their lives for me, for you. So we might be free. So we all can be as free as possible, this side of Heaven.
Thank you Glen, for the father who served his son—who served all sons and daughters.
Thank you Mark, for the son who served his father, his mother, his friends—not only on that hot October day, a few days before celebrating the day your parents brought you into this world—but every day you give of yourself so generously serving others.
Thank you, Jean, Mark’s wife, our friend. You epitomize grace and respect.
Thank you both for inviting Todd and me to participate in a solemn, respectful ceremony of your loved ones who willingly laid down their lives for you and me and all—that we might continue to live with freedom to openly agree and disagree—that we might still love one another, despite differences in beliefs.
And finally, most importantly, I thank our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who has promised to deliver us all from our hellish, blood-stained human sin. I thank Jesus Christ for His once-and-for-all sacrifice so we all can be set free permanently. By faith alone, in Christ alone. Jesus Christ, who knelt and washed the feet of His followers—the Perfect Freedom Giver, serving with the utmost humility for sin-stained humanity.
May we ponder the words of the last strain of our National Anthem and remember Francis Scott Key, respectfully honoring our God who has the power to preserve His will—all that is loving and just—all that is true:
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
~ ~ Francis Scott Key
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.