It is Memorial Day. You might not even notice. In fact, you may not even read this post until Tuesday or Wednesday, or later, this week. You may be too busy swimming, or gardening, grilling hot dogs, or just plain enjoying a Monday off of work to realize that men and women had to die for you to enjoy a free vacation day.
I’m not trying to lecture you or make you feel guilty. I have been longing and looking forward to this three-day weekend as much as anybody! It is not wrong to enjoy the time with friends and family, but we ought not forget why we celebrate Memorial Day in the first place.
From the website usmemorialday.org:
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day…
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. It was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle…
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).
It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). This helped ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays…
Many associate Memorial Day with red poppies. This is based on the poem, “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 by John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
“We are the dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow. Loved, and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.”
Those are sobering words, for when one dies, his body may lay in a physical location, but his soul has entered its eternal state. Indeed, we are all dead without Christ (Ephesians 2:1-2)! But Christ, in His mercy and grace, has been good to provide for us a means of salvation, a way to be raised to life in Him (Ephesians 2:4-7).
As we reflect on the sacrifice so many have made to secure our earthly freedoms, let us not lose sight of the greatest sacrifice of all, that sacrifice that was made by our great Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
Today, remember and honor the fallen not just by thanking a veteran (as so many desire to do on this day) or the families of the fallen, but by sharing with them the eternal freedom from sin, death, and the righteous wrath of God that is found in Jesus Christ alone.