What is important about Memorial Day? What is it for and what are we celebrating?
It began as Decoration Day following the Civil War- a day to decorate the graves of some of the almost 500,000 American soldiers who died during that terrible war. Today there have been more than 1.2 million war time military deaths.
Until the US became involved in WWI, Decoration Day was dedicated to remembering those who died during the Civil War only. During WWI it became a day to remember all Americans killed in any war. Memorial Day was officially recognized in 1971.
The idea of Memorial Day is not strictly American. Most civilizations, cultures, and countries have special days and memorials for those who have died, especially remembering those who die in battle. The ancient Greeks and Romans were known for honoring and celebrating those who died in battle. Historically many people have honored those willing to die for their nation. As humans, if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize the immensity of someone being willing to die in our place, for us and our freedoms. That’s a tremendous thing.
It’s important to remember that this day is about remembering people — it was never about remembering the wars and reasons for wars, but the people, specifically the Americans who died in those wars, real people, human souls… some of which we will meet in heaven, others, will not be there. People who died for others, died for their loved ones, died fighting to protect the country they loved. It’s a memorial to them. It’s one day each year we stop to remember the massive amount of American lives which have been lost in war.
It’s important to remember that while some of us will be enjoying our freedom having a cookout or camping, and there’s nothing wrong with that, others will be hurting. For some it will bring up the pain of losing someone long ago. For others, it will be the first Memorial Day without their husband, wife, mom, dad, son, daughter, or other loved one. It will be a time of pride in their loved ones who gave everything, and a time of sorrow at their loss.
Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
But the importance of Memorial Day is as much for our future as it is for our past. A memorial is "something designed to preserve the memory of a person, event, etc." It is to remember something. We must not forget these terrible things that happened and why they happened. Jon Bloom writes, “We forget them at our own peril. The future of the United States depends in large amount on how well we collectively remember and cherish what liberty really is and the terror of tyranny. There is a high cost to forgetting. In the words of George Santayana’s famous aphorism, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’”
As Christians this should resonate with us. As we read God’s word we can see evidence of a people, God’s people who continually forgot…forgot so many times they forgot to forget! The book of Judges is a wonderful/terrible example of God’s people forgetting, remembering, and forgetting again. We see in the times of the kings there were kings who remembered the Lord their God and there were kings who suffered because they forgot the old memorials.
Memorials such as we read about in Joshua crossing the Jordan and how in chapter 4 it says, “6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” In Exodus we read about a new Pharaoh coming to power in Egypt who did not remember Joseph. Israel’s feasts and meals were memorials. They were designed so the people would not forget their God.
As Americans we commemorate Memorial Day. We have an incredible amount of gratitude for the men and women who laid down their lives for us. As Christians we should stop and reflect on that. You see, as Christians we know the importance of someone dying for us. We remember Jesus Christ and his death. But not just His death. When we as Christians reflect on it, it’s not good enough for us to stop at calling it a memorial for Jesus. We memorialize those who are dead, but we honor those who live. I pray we understand the profound difference in the two.
We tend to go to 1 Corinthians 11 for “do this in remembrance of me.” And we apply it to His death and sometimes we don’t go past his death in our remembrance. But 2 Timothy calls us to “Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach.” All the service men and women who died for us stayed dead; there is only one who rose and is alive.
It’s important that we be a people who remember. As Christians we have a deep understanding of Memorial Day and true remembering. We remember the grace and forgiveness we have received. We remember with gratitude and awe those who gave their lives for their country. We remember those who are hurting and in pain at the loss of their loved ones.
We remember Jesus Christ, who gave His life for His people. And we remember past that, to Jesus Christ who didn’t end at death, but conquered death. And the day is coming when Memorial Days will be no more. There will be no more wars, no more need for men and women to die for their country, no more families left behind in anguish. We remember and wait for that glorious day when there will be no more pain, no more memorials.
-written by David Stine, Director of Operations at IDES