Der Vasken’s Sermon on May 30, 2021

“My mom told me that he went to Heaven…”

These were the words of a little boy, who gathered with his family during one of the four funerals we had here in church last week. This little boy was running around between the graves of the many people buried around where his grandfather was to be laid to rest. He saw me standing at the grave while family and friends were making their way to the burial site. This little boy came to a stop near me and as he stared down into the grave, he proudly shared with me these words: “My mom told me that he went to Heaven.” “That’s right,” I said. “Heaven is a beautiful place. He went to be with God.” And so began a few moments of teaching a young child about what Heaven and eternal life are all about.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in America. It’s a beautiful tradition. Let’s keep the four people we buried last week, as well as all our departed loved ones, in our prayers and thoughts tomorrow. Memorial Day is a revered tradition for people of many faiths and religions around the world. For us, as members of the Armenian Church tradition, setting aside a day for our dead has been basic to our spiritual “culture” since the very beginning.

Memorial Day is about remembrance. It’s about remembering those who served. It’s about showing respect for those who have left this world, whether we knew them personally or not; whether they were a part of our family or not. Memorial Day has always been about visiting their graves and cemeteries. It’s a day of remembrance.

Originally, Memorial Day was called “Decoration Day” because it was a time for decorating the graves of soldiers, who died in war, with flowers and flags. Many of us today still approach Memorial Day with the same respect we saw our parents and grandparents approach it. It was always looked upon as a day to honor our dead. It was a staple in the calendar year—the day that began the summer season. It was an unmovable day for which we paused our routines. It was a day we spent together. Memorial Day was a day we all looked forward to. It was a fixture of spring and it was permanent.

When we were children, many things in our lives seemed permanent. They would always be there. They would never change. If we all think back to our childhood for a moment, there were many wonderful aspects of life that we never imagined would change.

I’m talking about those basic foundations found in all healthy homes such as the stability and strength of family, our values, our priorities, our support for each other, our family’s history and purpose in this world, our faith in God and His love for us and there was honored respect for our dead. These things identified who we were and what we valued.

Today, of course, much of that has changed. In today’s world, it is easy to lose the anchor of our lives. It is easy to become confused and uncertain about what really matters. It is easy to become so concerned with the changes occurring around us that we lose sight of those values that never change and that give meaning to our lives.

St. Paul speaks very clearly about this in the Bible. He gives us this advice. “We should focus our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” he says. “What is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, what is seen is the world around us with all its good and all its bad—a world that seems to change faster and faster every day. The only certain thing is that more change is coming, but there remain unseen things in this world that do not change. These unseen things are the things valued by our Christian faith—things like humility and compassion; things like forgiveness and respect and love.

So on this Memorial Day weekend, ask yourself:

• What were the values passed down to you from your parents and grandparents?
• Then ask yourself if you still hold them in that same high regard today.

Let us honor our dead this weekend by remembering all that they valued and let us remember what St. Paul was telling us: That when the world we live in today passes away, those unseen values and those unseen things, that were passed down to us through the generations, remain with us forever and unchanged.

What were the values passed down to you from your parents and grandparents and do you hold them in that same high regard today? Something we should all ask ourselves on this Memorial Day weekend.

Amen.

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