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Memorial Day Worship and Prayer Resources

Memorial Day,the last Monday in May, is a day on the civil calendar for remembering and honoring those who have given their lives in battle. The day is also known as Decoration Day for the custom of placing flags at the graves of the patriotic dead. Without legitimating war, there is resonance with the gospel reading: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Memorial Day often passes in our churches with little or no mention. Historically and traditionally, it has been viewed more as a civic than a liturgical observance. As with New Year's Day, Mother's Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and others, Memorial Day is not a part of the liturgical calendar — although sometimes local congregations will observe these days in some manner in Sunday congregational worship.

Pastoral and congregational attention to the day can be an occasion of healing hurt and connecting with the rawness of loss. Participation in public observance offers Christians the opportunity to get outside our churchy bubble and be present with and to others as they struggle to come to terms with war, loss, devastation, and what it all means.

Some Suggested Guidelines for Observing Memorial Day in the Context of United Methodist Practice

For many communities, there may be more interest in observing Memorial Day while the Iraq War continues. This may be due to the fact that U.S. soldiers are killed and quietly brought home without public outcry or fanfare except for a brief showing of their pictures in silence on one of the evening network television news programs. It may also be due to a general heightened expression of nationalism and patriotism by many people following 9/11 and the ongoing vigilance of the nation in its aftermath. There are a number of concerns for worship planners and leaders to consider:

  1. Does focusing on Memorial Day in Sunday worship move us too close to civil religion? Perhaps it would be more appropriate for these observances to remain primarily the domain of government and civic groups, with clergy and people participating in whatever capacity suits those public gatherings.
  2. Services that are held should be interfaith in nature, as far as that is possible. Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and people of other religions have served in our armed forces. Some rural and small towns may not have faith communities other than Christian; but if there are other faith traditions within the community, the local leaders of those traditions should be involved. The memorial services broadcast from New York's Riverside Church and Washington, D.C.'s National Cathedral following the September 11 terrorist attacks could serve as good examples. We dare not convey that the mission of the U.S. military is also the mission of the church.
  3. Prayers in such an interfaith service of worship should be inclusive, reflecting men and women, varied races and faith traditions. There are prayers in The Book of Worship (see below) and in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church that could be used or adapted.
  4. In keeping with the traditions of our nation since the early days of observing Memorial Day, services are best held in a civic space or in a place in the cemetery where soldiers are buried.
  5. If churches are going to honor and give thanks for our nation's war dead, the observances should be in a context of prayer and in the concerns and prayers. Churches should not turn the entire service into a rehearsal of our national concerns. Let us remember President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation establishing the Veterans' Dayobservance that aims to "show sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nation." Let our churches continue to celebrate the good news of God's grace and love manifest in Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of the world, in whom all the creation is redeemed and is to be restored for the glory of God.

Resources in The Book Of Worship that May Be Used or Adapted
(Particularly for inclusion in Sunday services of Word and Table.)

  • Number 428, Prayer for Peace with Justice Sunday (may use musical response, number 195, The Book of Worship)
  • Number 440, "A Prayer for Memorial Day"
  • Number 495, "A Litany for the Church and for the World"
  • Number 511, "Prayer for God's Reign"
  • Number 513, "Prayer for Justice"
  • Numbers 515-516, two "Prayers for the Nation"
  • Number 520, "Prayer for Peace"
  • Number 526, "Prayer for the World and Its Peoples"
  • Number 542, "Prayer for Those In Military Service"

Resources in The United Methodist Hymnal that May Be Used or Adapted

  • "For Our Country," 429 (prayer)
  • "For the Healing of the Nations," 428
  • "Let There Be Peace on Earth," 431
  • "O God of Every Nation," 435
  • "This Is My Song," 437
  • "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," 717
  • See hymns listed under "Peace" on page 949

Suggested Scripture Readings

  • Deuteronomy 10:12-13, 17-21: What does God require of a nation?
  • Psalm 2: Warning to rulers of the earth.
  • Psalm 72: A prayer for justice and righteousness.
  • Amos 5:11-15: Establish justice.
  • Galatians 5:13-26: The proper use of freedom.
  • John 8:31-36: True freedom.

A Litany from The Book of Worship for United States Forces (1974)
(One-time permission to print and use this litany in congregational worship has been granted by The Armed Forces Chaplains' Board, Washington, D.C.)

Leader: Let us give thanks to God for the land of our birth with all its chartered liberties. For all the wonder of our country's story:


Leader: For leaders in nation and state, and for those who in days past and in these present times have labored for the commonwealth:


Leader: For those who in all times and places have been true and brave, and in the worlds common ways have lived upright lives and ministered to their fellows:


Leader: For those who served their country in its hour of need, and especially for those who gave even their lives in that service:


Leader: O almighty God and most merciful Father, as we remember these your servants, remembering with gratitude their courage and strength, we hold before you those who mourn them. Look upon your bereaved servants with your mercy. As this day brings them memories of those they have lost awhile, may it also bring your consolation and the assurance that their loved ones are alive now and forever in your living presence.


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