Six 21’s

The US Army soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier endure a strict, arduous discipline for that privilege.

Along with various tests, the tomb guards are required to memorize 17 pages of military information, including the location of 300 presidents and leaders who are buried there; and to be reminded of the significance of guarding and defending our leaders and patriots, and all those who sacrificed blood to allow the freedom to never forget those who died. Each guard spends 5 hours preparing his uniform before taking his position, dressing in front of a full length mirror.

The regimented 21 steps was chosen to symbolize the highest military honor bestowed–the 21 gun salute. The routine involves marching 21 steps S, turning to face E for 21 seconds; turning N, changing rifle to outside shoulder, waiting 21 seconds; marching 21 steps down the mat, turning E for 21 seconds; turning S, changing weapon to other shoulder, waiting 21 seconds, and then repeating the routine until being relieved of duty during the changing of the guards. They carry M14 rifles unloaded and cleaned daily, ready at all times. They can lose this privilege for any conduct unbecoming the tomb guard’s standards any time, on or off duty.

As I studied the discipline and the routine of the guards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s requirements of discipline and commitment to the Christian life. Using the metaphors for the runner, the boxer, and the soldier, Paul describes the rigorous and strenuous commitment to the Lord.

Paul assumes their common knowledge of the foot race in the stadium. Every one of them should run as these runners do, with an all-our effort to get the prize. Paul says of himself that he does not contend like an undisciplined runner or boxer. He states that he aims his blows against his own body. The Christian, confident of God’s sovereign grace, is nevertheless conscious of his battle against sin. “ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the forces of evil in the heavenly realms” ( Eph 6:12).

Paul continues in Hebrews 12:1: “Let us throw off everything that hinders.” The runners carried nothing with them in the race. Some things that are not wrong in themselves hinder us in giving our best effort. “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:3).

Of the 20% of the US Army soldier volunteers accepted for training to be an unknown tomb guard, only a fraction pass. How many of us modern day American Christians who volunteer for Christ’s service would pass?

If we are to be in the fraction who pass, then we must be possessed with Paul’s discipline, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the [coveted guard rank] (1 Cor 9: 27).