Memorial Day Remembrances

This sermon was presented at Resurrection on Sunday, May 29, 2011, by Pastor Jim Kniseley.  It is based on the general theme of Memorial Day.


Children’s Message


What two flags do you see today in church?  Yes, the American Flag and the Christian Flag.  Notice the colors in both flags: red, white and blue.  Let me tell you the story of how we got the Christian Flag that is found in many churches today in America….The superintendent of a Sunday School, Charles Overton, was forced to come up with a lesson on the spur of a moment when the scheduled speaker did not arrive.  He looked at the American flag and had an inspiration.  He asked the students to think about what a flag for Christianity would look like.  Here is what Mr. Overton and his students came up with…


The most conspicuous symbol on the flag is the cross.  The red color represents the blood of Jesus.  It reminds us of how Jesus died to take away our sins.  The white is the color of forgiveness and purity.  It reminds us that someday in heaven, the Bible says, people will be wearing robes that are “white as now.”  The blue color represents faithfulness, truth, and sincerity.


Today  I give each of you a small American flag to help us remember that we live in a special country and it remains such a good country because of people who were willing to give their very lives in defending their country….



148 years ago this month something took place in our church’s front yard that is most memorable, the Battle of Chancellorsville.  Every day I pass by the intersection of Old Plank Road and McClaws Drive where a marker tells of the late night meeting between Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, where they were hatching the daring plan to do a flank march around the Union Army and attack.  It turned out well for the Confederates and they were victorious in battle.  We also know about the tragic wounding of Jackson by his own men that night, the need to amputate his arm, his 28 mile ride in a horse-drawn ambulance to Guinea Station, and his death several days later.


What many of us may not know well is the sincere Christian faith of Stonewall Jackson.  He daily read his Bible, he prayed fervently every day.  His desire to provide spiritual direction for himself and his Second Corps led him to select Rev. Tucker Lacy as his chief of chaplains.


Beverly Tucker Lacy was the pastor of Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church, the one on Princess Anne Street, cattycorner from St. George’s Episcopal Church.  He and his family knew about war.  During the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, they had to take refuge in a basement of a house near the church.  His family’s inherited home was Chatham, and it was taken over as the Union Headquarters.  In March, 1863, Lacy officially became the head chaplain for the Second Corps.


On Sunday, April 23, 1863, Rev. Lacy led a service of worship for about 1,000 officers, including Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  It was at this service that Rev. Lacy baptized baby Julia Jackson.  She was just 5 months old and her father had seen her for the first time only days before this.  Rev. Lacy’s sermon was on the rich man and Lazarus, contrasting this world and the next.  It was the last sermon General Jackson ever heard, for he was wounded just 6 days later.


We know so much about Stonewall Jackson’s last days and hours because of what Rev. Lacy recorded.  Jackson told Lacy that when he was lying wounded on the field and when he was being carried in the ambulance, “I gave myself up into the hands of the Heavenly Father without a fear…It has been a precious experience to me, that I was brought face to face with death, and found all was well.”  Tucker was kept very busy ministering not only to Stonewall Jackson and Anna, but also to the many folks who kept watch outside the building at Guinea Station. 


It is Rev. Lacy, among others, who relayed so eloquently what Stonewall Jackson’s last words were.  We Christians know what Jackson meant more than those who think only in secular terms.  It was Sunday, May 10.  With a smile and a look of contentment on his face, just before he died, he clearly said, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of those trees.”



In preparation for this sermon, I pulled out my sermon from Memorial Day 2003.  I’m glad I did because we can look back now with relief and gratitude because two of our own who were serving overseas in the Armed Forces are safely home, enjoying the freedoms they served to defend, and are at worship with today.  I’m speaking of Todd Schlund and Kurt Wohler.


It was on Memorial Weekend in 2002 that Todd Schlund and his family organized our first ever Flag Display.  Little did  we know that in 2003 Todd would not be able to help because he was to leave on January 6 to serve in the War in Iraq.  Lt. Colonel Todd Schlund served in the Marine Corps and was an aviator, flying Harriers.  His carrier was the U.S.S. Bataan.


Todd was able to e-mail Pastor Carol and me on occasion.  Here is part of an e-mail we received.  I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your love, prayers, and support.  You will never realize what your kind words, thoughts and deeds meant to us.  It further strengthened our resolve and continued to affirm that ours was a just cause…I would ask that you remember those that are not making the trip home with us.  They were someone’s brother, father, son, mother, daughter, sister, friend – people just like you and me –ordinary Americans performing extraordinary acts.  They are the true heroes, having paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom…


We often focus so much on those who go to serve in the military that we overlook the sacrifice that is made by their families.  I asked Jody what the hardest part of Todd’s being overseas it.  Her answer, “Not having him here.”  (This remembrance touches me.) “ He could not be present for Courtney’s graduation from preschool last week or Tony’s prom last night or the June 14 graduation from high school for Lynsey and Ashlee.”


Then I was able to share some good news:  Todd was enroute and would arrive in Norfolk on June 22!


Then about Kurt Wohler.  Shannon was so thankful that Kurt wasn’t serving at the front in Iraq.  By all odds he should have been serving there as a field doctor.  He was a Major in the army reserves and living a normal life as an anesthesiologist at Mary Washington Hospital.  Then he was called up to active duty and sent to Landstuhl, Germany, near Ramstein Air Base.  At that point he hadn’t related any stories  because of confidentiality.  We do know that wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan eventually were sent to his hospital, and when they were sufficiently recovered, were sent on to the United States.  Shannon in May 2003 hoped that Kurt would be coming home by July.


Shannon, like Jody, had to carry on with home life with an absent partner.  Lucas and Nick were her priority, and she depended on family and friends to be her support group.


It gives me perspective on all this to think that the Schlund and Wohler preschoolers of 2003 are now the teenagers of today.  Lucas was confirmed last year, Nick will be confirmed this year, and Courtney will be confirmed next year.


Today we want to commend both of these families for their support for husbands and fathers, but also for their regular, weekly attendance at worship, during the time spouses were away, and ever since their return.  We thank Jody and Shannon for their serving through the years as coordinators of our Flag Display.




For this last remembrance, I am indebted to Dr. D. James Kennedy and his book What If the Bible Had Not Been Written?”


Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian or not?  He knew his Bible and could quote it well.  But he does not seem to have taken much stock in public  worship or affiliating with a church or being baptized.  That is until the last days of his life, in the mist of the dark days of the Civil War.


An intimate friend of Lincoln’s, Joshua Fry Speed, remarked that Lincoln had been a skeptic as a young, but in the summer of 1864, Speed noticed a change in Lincoln:


As I entered the room, near night, he was sitting near a window, intently reading the Bible.  Approaching him I said, “I am glad to see you so profitably engaged.”  “Yes,” said he, “I am profitably engaged.”  “Well,” said I, “if you have recovered from your skepticism, I am sorry to say that I have not.”  Looking me earnestly in the face, and placing his hand upon my shoulder, he said, “You are wrong, Speed; take all of this book upon reason that you can and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier and better man.”

Lincoln was to live a year and a half after that day.  He was reelected president and his second inaugural speed is noted for its awareness that his future and the future of the nation are entirely in God’s hands.  The last bill that Lincoln signed into law was the bill that mandated that the words “In God We Trust” should henceforth appear on all of our coins.


The Lincolns attended the play at Ford’s Theater on that fateful night…Do you know what President and Mrs. Lincoln were talking earlier in the day?  He told Mary that he would like to travel to the Near East with her to see the area where Jesus had lived.  “We could go to Bethlehem where He was born.  We could visit Bethany.  We could follow in those hallowed footsteps.”


John Wilkes Booth made sure that Lincoln would not get his heart’s desire.  Did you know that Abraham Lincoln had written to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, explaining that he had come now to a faith in the Savior and requested to make a public profession that Easter Sunday – but on Good Friday he died.


Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, looking down at the body lying at an angle across the bed in a room across the street from Ford’s Theater, said, “There lies the most perfect ruler of men that the world has ever seen…Now he belongs to the ages.”


And we remember the words of scripture:  “No greater love can be shown than this, that one is willing to lay down his life for another.”