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  • Reverend James Squire

Memorial Day: In Flanders Field


Several years ago, before going off to a Memorial Day Weekend, a close friend of mine, Robert Bishop, a colleague at EA commented that instead of celebrating this weekend as the official start of summer, the picnics that will occur all over our land with laughter and hot dogs and hamburgers, and trips to the shore that we should remember the poem, In Flanders Field. He was an English teacher and administrator. I had never heard of the poem.


This weekend we will remember those in our nation who have died in wars. There will be one day of parades and patriotic music played and celebrated throughout our land. There will also be sales in stores and car dealerships that will compete for our focus of remembering those who paid the ultimate price. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)


But the poem, In Flanders Fields, adds another perspective to our voices raised to remember those who are responsible for our freedom.


                     In Flanders Fields    In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow         Between the crosses, row on row       That mark our place; and in the sky       The larks, still bravely singing, fly    Scarce heard amid the guns below.    We are the dead. Short days ago    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,       Loved and were loved, and now we lie,                              In Flanders fields.    Take up our quarrel with the foe:    To you from failing hands we throw       The torch; be yours to hold it high.       If ye break faith with us who die    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow                                In Flanders fields.


The poem was written by Dr, John McCrae, a Canadian poet and physician, who fought in World War I. He wrote: “For seventeen days and seventeen nights none of us have had our clothes off, nor our boots even, except occasionally. In all that time while I was awake, gunfire and rifle fire never ceased for sixty seconds ... And behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.”

The poem was written to honor a fellow soldier who died. Legend has it that he was dissatisfied with 

his poem and cast it aside. Another soldier picked it up and saved it for posterity.


According to a source “It is one of the most quoted poems from the war. As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used in efforts and appeals to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds, its references to red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the Remembrance Poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict. The poem and poppy are prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada. In Flanders Fields is one of the nation's best-known literary works. The poem is also widely known in the United States, where it is associated with Veterans Day and Memorial Day.


McCrae noticed that many poppies grew in the soil where solders were buried which inspired him to write the poem.


But I am afraid that too many of us have forgotten the importance of this poem or who have never heard of it!


Notice something that is different from what we hear the most on Memorial Day. Our words give thanks for all that our veterans who died in the service of our country. We speak about them which is the essence of the holiday. But there is another perspective that we hear in McCrae’s poem. The poem is what the fallen would say to us or raise questions to us. Read the poem thoughtfully repeatedly this Memorial Day.


What would those who have fallen on our various battlefields to give us freedom say about how we are conducting our lives today. After all that they went through, I don’t believe that they would be discussing various sales, picnics, or the official start of summer. What would they say about the price that they have paid as they look at the heart and soul of our too divided country today? Their question to us today as they rest in the various “poppy fields” on which they died is, “What did I die for?” I believe that they would want us to be reminded of their sacrifice so that we could deserve all that they went through and their loss of life.


Their question generated by the poem, In Flanders Field, is one that should be front and center this weekend. We are all paying a price by the way we conduct our lives. What price are you and I paying? Is it preparing us to love and hear the words of the prophet, Micah: “Mankind, he has told each of you what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)


This weekend should be a time out where we as a nation and individuals listen to those voices beneath the poppies field in our own and varied Flanders Fields across the world?


            Take up our quarrel with the foe:    To you from failing hands we throw       The torch; be yours to hold it high.       If ye break faith with us who die    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow                                In Flanders fields.





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