“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This is a lesson that Jesus teaches to his disciples in the Gospel of John. Considering the sacrifice that He was preparing to make for the sake of all humanity, any lesson about Jesus and our Christian faith must necessarily include an appreciation of service and sacrifice.
That lesson was recently taught to a group of 7th- and 8th-grade students from Christ Cathedral Academy in the context of military service. This past April they, accompanied by Cathy Pierce, a Language Arts teacher at Christ Cathedral Academy, and Mark Evans, site administrator for the school, visited the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.
Three of the students and Evans had the honor of being part of a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb.
“To say that the service touched an emotional chord within would be an understatement,” says Evans, “because each of us in our own way realized during the ceremony that the idea of military service to others was an act that allowed us to be present and appreciative of our freedoms at that moment in time.”
While using the example of military service and heroics may seem to be an odd connection to the Christian notions of service and sacrifice to some, Evans sees a clear path between the two.
“For children in school, understanding service to God and country is a journey of faith laced with concrete examples of sacrifice for others,” he says. “Military personnel are trained to preserve, protect, and defend the rights and liberties of people they have never met, all the while knowing that they may have to sacrifice family, friends, and even their own life for the betterment of mankind.” Evans goes on to say that through learning about the military, children understand the meaning of Jesus’ statement about laying down one’s life for one’s friends.
It is not only the lesson of selfless sacrifice for others that children can learn from the military example, but also the lesson of serving others. “Children are also taught that selfless acts of kindness, without the expectation of recognition or reward, are the true mark of a hero today,” Evans says. “They are also instilled with the concept that the right thing must be done at all times, not because they are obligated to do so, but like the military, it is the right thing to do for others.”
Cathy Pierce also came away from that visit to Arlington National Cemetery profoundly moved by the experience. “It’s what I try to teach the sixth, seventh, and eight grades in religion every day,” she says.
The story of the American military is as full of anonymous acts of kindness and help to others is it is of anonymous heroics and sacrifice on the battlefields. In many ways they have shown the American character and the Christian character at their best. The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” His identity may only be known by God, but his example will be known by every succeeding generation of Americans.