I am often asked to pray at public events. It is an occupational hazard. I am the official pray-er at community functions. Town meetings, school board meetings, graduations, baccalaureate services, public dinners, weddings, funerals - you name it. If the preacher is in attendance he is asked to pray.
Not that I mind it. It is a wonderful opportunity to usher people into the presence of God. I even get to do some disguised preaching. Those who would never sit in a pew and listen to a sermon will unintentionally hear a message in a prayer.
One of the most solemn occasions I am asked to pray is at Memorial Day ceremonies. There is a reverence surrounding these ceremonies that is absent at other times. It has to do with the atmosphere of sacrifice that permeates the service.
It is not too often that we can truthfully say that something is “a matter of life or death.” This is one of those times. Especially these days when we are in the midst of the longest war that America has ever fought.
I heard one young soldier say that when he came home from Afghanistan he tried to talk to his old school buddies about the war. Some of them were surprised to hear that our country was still fighting there. Afghanistan has become a forgotten war before it is even over. That is why I am honored to pray at Memorial Day services. It is my way of making sure their service is not forgotten.
It does not matter whether we think the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf or Vietnam were good foreign policy. All that matters is that these men and women put their lives on the line. Many thousands gave their lives. Thousands more are continuing to give each day as they live with the physical and emotional wounds of war.
To pray is the least I can do. As my congregation knows, I do not pray for them only once a year on Memorial Day. I pray for soldiers every Sunday morning in my pastoral prayer. I want to make sure that no one in my congregation ever forgets the great sacrifice given by so many.