A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Patriotism & Ascension Sunday

This weekend marks an interesting dual theme of patriotism (Memorial Day Weekend) and Christ the King (Ascension Sunday.) For the Christian and for the church, the key is to show respect for our country and for those who have served bravely in the armed forces without having all of this overshadow our true allegiance which is to Jesus Christ.

The way the liturgical calendar has Ascension Sunday placed in the middle of a patriotic weekend is helpful at this point because our first thought should be on our celebration of when Jesus ascended his throne (Ascension Sunday.) And yet, it's also important for us to acknowledge and be thankful for the brave men and women who have served through our armed services and who are no longer with us.

Here's how this tension of patriotism and Ascension Sunday is enfolding for me this weekend:

Mayor's annual prayer breakfast in Xenia. Sometimes community prayer breakfasts have a patriotic triumphalism connected to them but this prayer breakfast did a good job of not letting this happen. The prayers were respectful of different Christian faith traditions and did not glorify war or inflate the importance of our country over against other countries.

Later that day, I officiated at a graveside service in which many of the graves had patriotic decorations which I think is a wonderful thing to see. My message to the people at the graveside was that we believe that through faith in Christ, there will be a day when we will be reunited with all of God's people and that will be a time when there will be no more tears, heartache, sin, or death. Several people nodded their heads as their way of saying "Amen" to this good news of our faith.

Today, I have another graveside funeral service. This person served in the military and there will be the playing of taps and the presentation of the flag to the family. In the midst of our patriotism, the good news of Jesus Christ will comfort us even as we grieve the loss of a loved one and a dedicated member of the church.

The sermon and the worship theme will focus on Ascension Sunday and we will offer our praises to Jesus Christ who has ascended to his heavenly throne and is the true ruler over all powers and earthly leaders.

Following the last worship service, our church will gather around the flag pole and the scouts will lead us in a brief flag ceremony in which a flag in memory of one of our members who served in the Marines will be raised and flown proudly on our church grounds.

As I go through this Memorial Day weekend, I'm thankful for our fallen heroes and their sacrifices for our country, but I'm even more mindful of the one who is the true ruler over all and who calls us to participate in the reclaiming of the world so that one day, justice, peace, and righteousness will flood the whole earth just as the waters cover the sea.

Psalm 47 (Ascension Sunday Psalm)
1Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
8God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

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