The most powerful and enduring speech of modern times, in my opinion, was not written by a team of professional writers. It wasn’t scrolled down in bite-sized pieces on a teleprompter, or broadcast to millions of television viewers.
This speech was delivered to a crowd of about 15,000, nearly 150 years ago. It contained only ten sentences, and was delivered at a cemetery dedication. It was two minutes long, followed an eloquent and well-received speech that was nearly two hours long, and was never intended to be the highlight or focal point of the ceremonies.
Have you guessed it yet?
I’m referring to the Gettysburg Address, which has been brought to my recollection twice lately—once because of its portrayal in the Faith in History Performers’ recent play on the Civil War time period, and once just this weekend by Peter Day (the actor who played Lincoln in the aforementioned play), who cleverly revised the Gettysburg Address into a witty graduation address that had the audience in tears from laughter. (Well done, Pete!)
But I do digress. The great irony of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was the line, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Sadly, though the world did, to Lincoln’s surprise, both note and remember his address, many have forgotten what “they did here.” We have war protests, we have bumper stickers that say “bring them home,” and we curse the leaders who send our troops off to fight and die in battles we may or may not believe in. But how often do we really remember the sacrifices of the men and women who have poured out their precious drops of crimson blood on the altar of freedom?
It is the altar of our freedom, not theirs. They rejected freedom that we might be free. How many prisoners of war have sacrificed their freedom for freedom’s sake? How many soldiers have died in war, that others might live in peace? We reap the benefits of their blood, sweat, and tears. We enjoy togetherness with our families because they were torn from theirs. We worship in freedom because they, committing themselves to God, sacrificed their freedom for us.
Because they gave up their American Dream—their opportunities, their potential, their hopeful aspirations—for a greater cause, we are free to live an American Dream. And at the forefront of that dream should always be the American hero, the lone soldier, the bereaved family who gave until there was nothing left to give.
This precious freedom—this costly dream—cannot rightfully be spent for one’s own ambitions. It must be shared, given away, and passed on, always in memory of those who have made it possible. We ought never, NEVER take for granted that in each moment, we have on our shoulders the responsibility to live well not only for our own sakes, but also the sake of those who no longer live. We vicariously live what they could not.
We must live WELL! We MUST live well, so that they, like the One who first bought freedom so long ago, should be remembered always in us, who are called to be the living testament of lifeblood well spent.
Happy Memorial Day, my friends. May God bless you, and may God Bless America.
The Gettysburg Address
by President Abraham Lincoln
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.