From left, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of Congregational Church...

From left, the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of Congregational Church of Patchogue, the Very Rev. Michael Sniffen of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, and Rabbi Aaron Marsh of Oceanside Jewish Center. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger; Barry Sloan; Carrie Rolnick/Barry Sloan

Memorial Day, observed May 30 this year, was established in 1868 as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of war dead with flowers — hence its original name, Decoration Day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This week’s clergy discuss how their congregations will be remembering and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice in war.

Rabbi Aaron Marsh

Oceanside Jewish Center

Judaism sets aside several days for memorializing the deceased: on the anniversaries of individuals’ deaths, on each major holiday (when we feel their absences more keenly) and on days dedicated to remembering the millions who died in the Holocaust and other horrifying historical events.

On Memorial Day and the Saturday preceding it, my congregation will recite memorial prayers with the names of loved ones who served and are no longer with us. My Saturday sermon will address this subject, and services will conclude with taps.

Israel also observes a Memorial Day as well as an Independence Day (many diaspora Jews observe these days in solidarity). Those observances occur back-to-back, instead of over a month apart as in the United States. I think they are onto something. Too often, Memorial Day in the United States is about barbecues, parties and celebrating the “beginning” of summer. We often forget the purpose of Memorial Day: remembering those whose lives were lost defending us.

Perhaps instead we can find a separate day to hold our summer celebrations. This Memorial Day, let us all take a little time out to pause and remember those who gave their lives for our freedom.

The Very Rev. Michael T. Sniffen

Dean, Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City; Lieutenant, U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps

The Cathedral of the Incarnation hosts an ecumenical Memorial Day service before the community gathers to begin the local parade. Starting the holiday in prayer is an essential part of our national tradition. From the time it was known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day has been a time to remember those who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Our remembrances rightly include prayer and thanksgiving for the sacrifice of those who established and protect our freedoms.

I had the honor of serving as a civilian chaplain in Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014 and the 75th anniversary in 2019. I was deeply moved by the World War II memorials and remembrances in France, especially at the Normandy American Cemetery. As I considered the sacrifices of those whose graves I visited, I was moved to do something more with my gratitude. After much prayer, I joined the U.S. Navy to serve the spiritual needs of sailors more directly.

In my Christian tradition, Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) As we remember those who laid down their lives for our sake, we pray for guidance regarding how each of us is called to serve in their honor.

The Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

Pastor, Congregational Church of Patchogue

Memorial Day is about memory. We Americans do not “do” memory well. We have slogans like, “Let bygones be bygones.” We say “bye,” and then it’s “gone.”

At our church, we remember. Memorial Day is about sacrifice, honor, commitment, loyalty and love — and so is church. For Memorial Day, we gratefully sing “America the Beautiful,” which asks God to shed God’s grace on us, as it speaks of those whose lives were lost in war: “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self, their country loved, and mercy more than life.” We remember.

We also read from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah about those who “beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks.” (Isaiah 2:4) We remember to pray for peace.

Our church is 229 years old. We have remembered and honored the fallen through many wars and times of hard-fought peace. As pastor, I am mindful that I was born on an air base into a career military family and named after Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. I remember that the Christ I follow, whose gospel was peace, also paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to others. We remember them all, just as God remembers us.

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