Updated: Jan 14
On the evening of July 22, 2006, I received a telephone call from my sister-in-law Kelly saying that two soldiers were knocking on their front door. My brother Gary, who at the time was serving as a police officer, was away at a training session. Their oldest son Chris had been serving on his third tour of duty in Iraq during the “Global War on Terror.” Chris, who was with the Army’s 82nd Airborne, was a believer in Christ and loved serving our country. And now, there were soldiers at his parent’s door. As Kelly invited them inside, I told her that I would be over as quickly as possible.
USA Staff Sergeant Christopher W. Swanson. was killed while serving his third tour of duty in Iraq during the Global War on Terror.
As I arrived at the house, Kelly met me with tears in her eyes. Soon after, my brother Gary arrived home, and the soldiers shared the news that no parent would ever want to receive. Chris had been killed in action earlier that day in Ramadi, Iraq. For Gary and Kelly, that knock on the door would turn out to be a visit that changed their lives forever. Their son died a hero’s death, and now, the War on Terror and Memorial Day would take on a more personal meaning.
Growing up, I always knew why we celebrated Memorial Day. It’s a holiday established by Congress to honor those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. On the last Monday of May, this day is set aside to honor the men and women who died in serving the United States military. But for me and many others, it was more about the start of summer, picnics, baseball, beaches, and a day off work and school. However, the older I got, and especially in the aftermath of my nephew’s death, I realized that Memorial Day was much more than that. It was really about service and sacrifice.
As Christians, we have the ultimate example of service and sacrifice in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Throughout scripture, we find Jesus constantly serving others. He fed thousands and healed the sick, the lame, the deaf, and the blind. He washed the feet of others; He raised the dead, and He spent time with those that no one else cared about. Jesus lived a life of servanthood. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” As Christ-followers, we are called to put others first and look for opportunities to serve like Jesus served. (Philippians 2:3-4)
In Jesus, we also find the ultimate sacrifice for humanity. While the soldiers we honor on Memorial Day have sacrificed for our earthly freedom, Jesus sacrificed for our eternal freedom. His sacrifice allowed us to gain a spiritual victory over sin, death, and hell. Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” On that first Good Friday, over two thousand years ago, Jesus willingly went to a cross outside of Jerusalem and laid down his life for us. Our sins, past, present, and future, were nailed to that cross with Jesus.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” I am so thankful that Jesus considers us His friends, and because of his death and resurrection, we have a promise from Romans 10:9 that says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” When it comes to the end of life, there are really only two things that matter. They are:
1. Whether you accepted Jesus Christ’s free gift of grace and salvation
2. Whether you rejected it.
The choice you make has huge eternal consequences and is literally a heaven vs. hell decision.
This Memorial Day, you will most likely find my brother and sister-in-law visiting section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery and participating in remembrance ceremonies with other Gold Star families. As a nation, we hold the deepest gratitude for the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have given their lives over the ages, defending our freedoms and families. For those that are in Christ, I am thankful for the promise given in Revelation 21:4 — “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
As Christians, we know that our first allegiance is to God and that our ultimate citizenship is not of this world. We are thankful above all things for the service and sacrifice of our Risen Savior, Jesus Christ. I am not sure why the Lord afforded me the opportunity to live in this great nation, but He did, and I am thankful. I am thankful for the men and women who have served faithfully throughout the years, and especially for those who have given up their lives to protect our freedoms.
So, this Memorial Day, remember to say thanks and to pray for our nation and our leaders. This is an imperfect nation because we are an imperfect people. But the good news is that we serve a perfect God who wants a personal relationship with you and me. The reality is that one day, there will be a knock on our family’s door, a phone call, or a visit from a doctor saying that we have passed away. The question is, where will you be spending eternity? My prayer is that you will be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and he will say to you, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.”
Please know that I love you all, and I am praying for you. If you have any questions about salvation and/or if there are any specific prayer requests that you have and/or anything that I can assist you with, please do not hesitate to contact me at: email@example.com.
“All gave some; some gave All.”
* All scripture quoted in English Standard Version (ESV)
Glenn Swanson is the pastor of Bayside Baptist Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, and he serves as the president of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.