Today is both Rogation Monday, and Memorial Day for Americans.
In honoring soldiers, we must also remember the horror they have confronted, and are trained to confront: that is, the horror of war. Soldiers, whose careers are molded around the problem of war, tend to have a much more attuned consciousness to the horrors of war than civilians. They know that confronting the spectre of war is necessary; and they gladly give their lives to this phenomenally ugly side of human existence. Let us therefore be thankful that they do this for us - with all the attendant unpleasantness, sacrifice, and occupation of the imagination with things unseemly. For because they take this burden upon themselves, we civilians are free of it.
Few have understood how awful war can be as the residents of Dresden at the close of the Second World War - amongst them, Rudolf Mauersberger, a composer and cantor at the Dresden Kreuzkirche. When the church was bombed, Mauersberger lost eleven young choir members. He wrote a motet, How Lonely Sits the City - Wie liegt die stadt - which was performed for the first time at the Kreuzkirche in August, 1945.
Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst,
die voll Volks war.
Alle ihre Tore stehen öde.
Wie liegen die Steine des Heiligtums vorn auf allen Gassen zerstreut.
Er hat ein Feuer aus der Höhe in meine Gebeine gesandt
und es lassen walten.
Ist das die Stadt, von der man sagt,
sie sei die allerschönste,
der sich das ganze Land freuet?
How lonely sits the city that was full of people.
All her gates are desolate.
The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street.
From on high he sent fire;
into my bones he made it descend.
Is this the city, which was called the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?
The text is based on Lamentations.
Another setting of this text, by Matthias Weckmann (17th century) is also fine listening and fit for today