Up until World War II, most people knew Memorial Day as “Decoration Day.” Decoration Day was a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers, flags, and wreaths to remember and honor those who had died to defend our country. But, the name and meaning of this special day has changed over the years. Today, Memorial Day is mostly known for marking summer’s beginning, the opening of swimming pools, sunny weekend trips to the beach, and hotdogs and burgers on the grill.
These celebrations are certainly fun and good, but when we focus too much on the festivities themselves without reflecting on the day’s meaning, we dishonor those who served and the families who have suffered great loss. According to Jesus Christ, these members of the armed forces demonstrated the greatest love by laying down their lives for us.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Christians, we know the importance of continued remembrance because the life of faith is full of opportunities to reflect on what God has done for us. Otherwise, we simply forget. Humans have had a memory problem since the Garden of Eden. Our nature is limited and fickle. We have a tendency to let truth and goodness fade away in the midst of our day to day.
Think of how quickly the Israelites abandoned God after He delivered them from Egyptian slavery and captivity. These people literally experienced plagues of unprecedented destruction, seas parting, and manna appearing from heaven, yet they forgot God’s gifts and turned to idols.
Exodus 32:1-5 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”
Or how the disciples left Jesus the night He was betrayed. Even Peter, who vowed to never deny Christ, fled the scene at the hour of Jesus’ arrest. These were the men who witnessed the Son of God perform great miracles of divine healing, provision, and resurrection, yet in the face of real trials, they abandoned Him.
Matthew 26:56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Matthew 26:69-75 Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, “You also were with Jesus of Galilee.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are saying.” And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, “This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth.” But again he denied with an oath, “I do not know the Man!” And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, “Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you.” Then he began to curse and swear, saying, “I do not know the Man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
In the Bible, memory is an act of faithfulness to God. Throughout Scripture believers are formed by their response to God’s promises by meditating on His work and responding in reverent worship. For this reason, Christianity values memorial tradition. We regularly remember the death of our Lord with bread and wine, we recall Jesus’ victory over sin in the baptismal waters, we celebrate His birth on Christmas, and we look back on the crucifixion and resurrection during Holy Week.
On this Memorial Day, as we remember with grateful hearts those who gave their lives for our country, let us also dwell on the Cross of Christ. We take time today to think deeply about the brave men and women who died protecting our freedoms because their courage and sacrifice points us to the good news of the gospel. May the examples of their service inspire us to live in response to the perfect One who selflessly laid down His life for us. Almighty God, bless the families of our fallen troops and fill their homes with strength and peace.
O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those men and women
who have died in active service.
As we honour their courage and cherish their memory,
may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever.