“If you love me you’ll send this e-mail back to me and you’ll forward it to 10 other people.” Since when is the return of a digital communication a measurement of love? It’s not. This is just a devise to get the original e-mail to Spam around the world. Soon the delete key on my computer will be worn out!
The one about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery may have popped up on your monitor. I didn’t mind. I’d seen it twice before. In 2005 it appropriately arrived the day before thanksgiving. President Bush, in his Thanksgiving Proclamation, reminded our nation to be grateful for those who served in the cause of liberty. He said: “Our country is grateful for their service and for the support and sacrifice of their families. We ask God's special blessings on those who have lost loved ones in the line of duty.”
My visits to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier have been deeply humbling events. This year my 2 minutes’ silence at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month was in England. With millions, I paused to reflect on how much I owed to soldiers who met and subdued the tyrants’ brandished steel. Wars are often declared for selfish reasons. America may never have entered WW2 were it not for Pearl Harbor. Saddam Hussein probably would still be terrorizing the people of Iraq were it not for our fear that he could sell a nuclear device to Bin Ladin. Be all that as it may, the ordinary soldiers, whose unnamed bodies lie in Arlington or Westminster Abbey, stood to arms at their country’s behest.
The idea for a grave honoring the Unknown Soldier came from Reverend David Railton. In 1916 he was a chaplain at the front in France. Dog tags in those years were made of cardboard. Many were lost in the battles. In a garden at Armentierés he saw a new grave marked by a rough wooden cross with the inscription: "An Unknown British Soldier of the Black Watch".
The idea to honor one of the many anonymous fallen warriors took wings. A spot among the nobles and kings buried at Westminster Abbey was allocated. Thus with great respect the coffin was brought from France on HMS Verdun, carried by train to Victoria station and arrived by gun carriage at the abbey. During the night, as the train clattered towards London, there were lights on in homes large and humble. The nation took note of the possibility that a lost son, uncle, brother or father might be passing by.
For the last mile the king and his sons walked bareheaded behind the carriage. Many in the throng wept openly as the battle torn flag that draped the bier came into view. After the ceremony 40 thousand people passed by in respect. 200 thousand came to pay homage the next few days. With months one and a quarter million people visited that grave. The burial place of that ordinary man is revered more than all the poets, kings, generals and statesmen that lie with him at Westminster.
There is an ancient garden in old Jerusalem. It’s near the American embassy. Please visit it. You’ll find it next to a large bus terminus. Look up above the rumble of the vehicles. As you gaze, the craggy hill beyond, soon forms into the likeness of a skull.
Don’t come to this garden looking for marble, flags, honor guard and ceremonies. In the midst of paths of flowers and shrubs you’ll see a roughly hewn tomb. As you approach you note that it’s open. People are going inside. You do too. There’s nothing to see. As you turn to leave a simple Bible quotation catches your eye: “He is not here – He has risen.” The garden tomb is one of 2 possible sites for Jesus’ grave. I care not which. What matters is that both are empty. I owe earthly liberties to the Unknown Soldier, but my eternity was secured at the battle of Calvary. The victory was manifest when death could not hold him. I believe in the resurrection