The number is 3,422

The number is 3,422. That’s how many members of the U.S. military have paid the supreme sacrifice in the war in Iraq over the last four years. But on this Memorial Day, when the nation remembers our war dead, how many of them did we know? The reality for most of us is that, in fact, we don’t know any of these 3,422 who laid down their lives for country and family. Nor do we know their 25,549 comrades who have been wounded in this war. If we have family over there, all we know is the quiet prayer that God would keep our loved one from adding to either statistic.

How can you remember the war dead when you didn’t know them? Pictures help, to be sure. Photos silently moving across the screen of the evening news or lined up in a news weekly put a chiseled face to the statistics. After all, he was somebody’s boy, she was someone’s spouse. Pictures help. But we don’t remember for long, do we? Even when Newseek magazine published photocopies of some of the deceased soldiers’ last letters home, while their names and faces became more personal and the magnitude of their sacrifice dawned upon us more forcefully, we still didn’t remember for long.

Do you suppose that’s God’s problem, too? That our memory of the war dead has grown distant and detached. Laid down his life, did he, in the great conflict? Having a picture would sure help. Or a photocopy of a letter home. But just a name? And so we forget.

Which is why a piece of broken bread and a cup of wine were once upon a time placed in our hands. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” he commanded (I Corinthians 11:24). So that we would not forget this War’s supreme Sacrifice. And remember the name, if not the face, of the One who landed behind enemy lines and laid “down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Calvary. And the bread and the cup. Of him who died.

And rose again. Which makes that war-dead statistic of one utterly unique in time and space—this One who not only laid down his life, but took it up again, his supreme sacrifice becoming humanity’s supreme victory. “So that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Hope, not only for the families of the 3,422, but hope for an entire race of war casualties—which, on this Memorial Day, is surely the most memorable statistic of all!

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