On Memorial Day we remember all those who laid down their lives for their country. What do you say to a member of the armed forces, or the police, who have to face death for us every day? German theologian Helmut Thielicke wrote a letter to a soldier who was wounded and having to go back into action. This is the conclusion of that letter.
“In death I am really and irretrievably and in actual fact at my end. But at the same time I am one whose history with God cannot stop, since I am called by my name and I am a friend of Jesus. The Resurrected One is victorious and I stand within his sphere of power. Once more it is his shared life with which I am in fellowship and which brings me through everything and receives me on the other side of the gloomy grave. It is not the intrinsic quality of my soul nor something supposedly immortal in me that brings me through. No, it is this Wanderer who marches at my side as Lord and Brother and who can no more abandon me on the other side than he could let me out of his hand here on this side of the grave.
You know, of course, Paul Gerhardt’s resurrection hymn:
Now I will cling forever,
Christ’s member, to my head;
My Lord will leave me never,
But leads me through the dread.
He rends death’s iron chain,
He breaks through sin and pain,
He shatters hell’s dark thrall,
I stay his friend through all.
Should we not then make bold to interpret God’s march through the travail of history and through the carnage of war in just this way? Indeed, are we not in fact compelled thus to interpret and explain it? May God grant us the grace not to withhold from our neighbor the message we owe him about that march!”
(Helmut Thielicke, Death and Life, Fortress Press, 1970, p.xxvi)