It is perhaps surprising: to imagine the little hobbit, clothed in tatters garments and mud-stained cloak, kneeling and put down his small knife in the hall of so majestic a leader. It certainly startles Denethor, who expected nothing so bold from the Halfling. But this offering of service should not be overlooked, for there is value in considering service as we see it unfold here.
That Pippin chooses to serve is noteworthy: it is a path unexpected given what we have previously seen in his character. Since the Shire Pippin has always been the young hobbit, the silly one, bouncing from danger to danger, Moria to kidnapping to palantir. He has had a few moments of bravery – that brief escapade with the brooch being one of recent memory – but has other stayed out of the affairs of the great actors of the Fellowship, normally tagging along with Frodo, Gandalf, or Treebeard instead of doing his own thing.
Now he swears fealty to Denethor, and offers his service to the Guards of the Citadel of Gondor. We realize now how hidden from our view a deep appreciation for the actions of Boromir has grown inside him, and how he has matured into desiring to work for some greater purpose. He has moved from passive presence to active service, and the intersection of his indebtedness and commitment find fulfillment in the halls of the Steward. It is a dangerous decision, to be sure, for Pippin is diving into a world he knows little about, for a master who the wise have warned him to be wary regarding. Yet, nevertheless, it is a service, a choice that we, like Gandalf, should not scoff at.
Often we too find ourselves in such moments, with the opportunity to offer service, to commit to something greater than ourselves, to repay some of the indebtedness for the blessings of our lives. In that multiplier, the magnification of action, does service show its true beauty, and it is no small accomplishment of modern culture that so many people, in particular the youth, desire to uncover opportunities to serve, especially those in great need. Yet, we must be wary, and ensure we know why we serve: for we do not so often lay down our swords for service while the darkness is so at hand. Instead, we often appreciate the trappings that services provides: the connections and opportunities, the praise and the awards, the good feelings and sense of rightness. There is nothing inherently wrong with such things, for they can be the uniforms of our Guards of the Citadel or the victuals from the guardhouses of service: yet, they cannot become the source of our desire.
Instead, we must keep our eyes East, even before the storm arrives, and remember why we serve: for the sake of those who would be smothered by the coming darkness, and because we were once served, and made better for it.