At 6:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning several weeks ago, 26 senior adults boarded a bus in our parking lot for a trip to Washington, DC, to tour the Washington National Cathedral and visit the National Art Gallery. A light but persistent rain lengthened the travel time considerably, but the sights of that day linger indelibly, I’m sure, in the travelers’ memories.
I suspect many of you have visited the National Cathedral. I had some years ago, but seeing it again in its remarkable grandeur felt like a new visit altogether. Perched majestically atop a hill in northwest Washington, its tower rises above anything near it and can be seen from miles around. It is a structure begun and completed entirely in the past century. President Theodore Roosevelt witnessed the laying of the Cathedral’s foundation stone in 1907, and President George H.W. Bush celebrated its completion 83 years later in 1990.
Officially called the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal church supported by gifts from individuals from across the country and, in accordance with constitutional principles separating church from state in official ways, does not receive operating support from the federal government.
And while the Cathedral functions under the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, it honors all religious traditions and denominations. Nearly all world religious leaders have preached from its pulpit. And it has marked particularly historic occasions, including a number of State funerals as well as Martin Luther King’s last sermon from a church pulpit preached just days before his assassination.
“The Cathedral is dedicated to serve as a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation. It seeks to be a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in the world” (from a Cathedral brochure).
Such ideals should resonate for all of us this weekend as we remember gratefully and with fervent prayers the lives of those who have sacrificed their lives for the highest ideals of our nation, ideals largely consistent with the foundational precepts of our Christian faith – such as those of justice, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, and love. That we occasionally have felt the necessity to bear arms in defense of those ideals only affirms our human sin. That we have prevailed through such conflict affirms God’s eternal providential care.
On Memorial Day – a day given in prayerful remembrance of all in our nation who have died as a result of armed conflict – nation and faith are drawn inextricably together. May the day be observed in such a way that we do not glorify war that leads to future wars; but rather in such a way that in remembering the sacrificial gift of life for us and others we continue to seek ways that lead to peace in the steps of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.