Requiem for our fallen classmates! The Rev’d Craig Uffman

(2 Timothy 4:6–8 NRSV) “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

(John 15:9–13 NRSV) “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Standing up here in the pulpit, I can see that, at last, we’ve become what Captain Jack hoped we would be: at last we’re well-rounded ….

This is a special day, an important day. We gather to remember the sacrifice and valor of those whose memory we honor – our fallen shipmates. Some fell in the line of duty, others of different causes. As I look over the list of classmates we’ve lost, I remember what brought the class of ’82 here 34 years ago. Surely some just wanted to fly, and others might have dreamed about the adventures at sea we ultimately had. We had fun together, didn’t we? And especially with those whose faces flash before us this morning….

But it wasn’t the hoped-for adventure that ultimately brought us here. No, I believe that, deep inside, all of us who raised our right hands in front of Admiral Bill Lawrence and Capt Jack Darby on that glorious day, was a response to a calling – a calling to a purpose larger than ourselves, to a duty larger than ourselves. All of the classmates we remember today stood shoulder to shoulder with us with their right hands raised, pledging to give their lives so that others might live. Today we stand shoulder to shoulder once again to declare a truth about them: “They fought the good fight, they finished the race, they kept the faith.” And on this day especially we proclaim that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Perhaps the most important thing for us to do today is simply to be silent, to listen, to hear their witness. May we be blessed by the sounds of their silence. I know from Facebook that some of us have visited on the way to Annapolis that Antietam battlefield where 23,000 died 150 years ago. That tragic loss of life brings to mind President Lincoln, who taught us at Gettysburg in 1863, “the dead have spoken

more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could.” And so our task today is really not to add to the testimony of our fallen shipmates but to carry on their work: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they … so nobly advanced… that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

To say that someone died in vain is to say that their death was emptied of meaning. And Lincoln reminds us that we have the possibility of rendering meaningless the sacrifices and valor of those we honor on this day. Many of us have retired; some of us are merely tired; we feel that at last it is time for us to rest. But we have their unfinished work to do, and if we fail to continue that work, it will be us who declared that they served and died in vain.

According to Lincoln, our dead died for a noble cause: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.” As a Christian preacher, I applaud President Lincoln’s choice of words. I am thrilled whenever any President channels St. Paul, and makes the connection between the ‘new birth’ and freedom. If our faith is to be coherent, if our gratefulness to God is to resonate in every aspect of our lives, then the Stars and Stripes must continue to stand for “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” If our nation ever fails to stand for these things, then it seems to me that President Lincoln, and all those who gave so much for us, would say that we failed to continue the work they passed on to us – they would indeed have died in vain. Then the good conscience that is our hope would seem a distant possibility, for we would feel, no doubt, like prodigal sons and daughters who wasted our inheritance.

As we wrestle with that responsibility, I invite your attention to President Lincoln’s insight that we have continuing work to do, and that that work consists of renewing freedom. That begs the question. What exactly is this freedom that each generation is called to renew?

Many think that freedom means being able to choose anything we will – that freedom is about being able to fulfill our every desire. But freedom is not an end, but a means – a means to something much greater. Freedom is about being able to will what God wills, to desire what God desires. So perfect freedom is about deliverance – deliverance from all things that prevent us from being who God calls us to be. When we served in the fleet, and when earlier generations sacrificed their lives for our freedom, it was not for something as cheap and shallow as the possibility of a society without boundaries, but, rather, it was so that the boundaries of our society would remain rightly ordered – so that every citizen has the possibility of being whom God called them to be.

This brings to light the connection between liberty and justice for all for which our nation must stand if we are to appeal to God with good consciences (1 Peter 3:16). I know that we’re tired, but our nation still needs us. Wherever we are, we who continue must lead in place, lead wherever we are, lead in whatever vocation to which we’ve been called; we must lead our communities and families to know what it means to love each other as God loves us.

For if we become a nation in which each family must build their own barn and rebuild it by themselves when life knocks it down; if we become a nation in which it’s each man for himself in an all-against-all contest for the fruits of the Promised Land; if we become a nation where it is ever acceptable for some among us to be trapped in the despair of poverty and violence; if we become a nation in which freedom means that our neighbor has no claim upon us except a duty of indifference; then, sisters and brothers, I fear that history will judge that, in our time, on our watch, we decided that all those who served before and alongside us will have served and died in vain.

My friends, martyrs never volunteer to die. They simply answer the call when it becomes necessary to make a defense of the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) – our hope for the freedom that is the intersection of liberty and justice for all. As we celebrate the lives and legacies of those we have lost but not forgotten, may their lives be question marks for us. May their silent witness resound with the question asked each time we walk past a baptismal font, each time we drive by a church. Are our consciences clear? Are we fighting the good fight? Are we finishing the race? Are we keeping the faith by striving for the good that God wills? These are the questions that you and I and every generation must answer.

Today, let us renew our vows, the promise we made together 34 years ago. Let’s honor our fallen classmates by answering the call on each and every day of the rest of our lives.

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