“I think those of us who follow Jesus Christ would do well to find ways to soberly reflect on the original intent of Memorial Day,” suggested Kentucky preacher Bob Russell.
While Memorial Day is not a religious holy day, it is an American holiday with deep significance honoring those who sacrificed their lives serving and defending our country.
In his treatise to the Romans, Paul wrote regarding our relationship to governmental authorities that we should render honor to those to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7).
There is no clear record of when or where this holiday began. Over two dozen cities and towns lay claim to the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is evidence that women’s groups in the South began decorating the graves of Confederate Soldiers before the end of the Civil War.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868, by General John Logan and first observed on May 30, 1868. For many years it was known as “Decoration Day.” I can recall as a youngster going to the Mace cemetery in Montgomery County Indiana and my Grandma Weliever calling it “Decoration Day.”
In 1971 Congress changed the official celebration to the last Monday in May. It has become a time not only to honor those killed in war, but to remember all of our loved ones who have died.
There are two extremes that come to mind on this holiday. One is an ill-conceived and unscriptural attempt to combine our patriotism with Christianity. While we echo the words of the song, “God Bless America,” with a proper mixture of humility and pride, we must remember that God is not just a God of the USA. Jesus didn’t die for America. “All are one in Christ Jesus” regardless of race, ethnicity, or nationality (Gal. 3:26-27).
However, there is another extreme that says we ought not to celebrate anything that has to do with America. Our spiritual consecration to Christ and our allegiance to our homeland are not incompatible. In recent years there has been a shift in some circles to suggest that loyalty to “the land of the free and the home of the brave” is a bad thing. In fact, there seems to be some backlash, either spoken or unspoken, toward our military today.
It’s worth noting, that the first Gentile convert, Cornelius, was a military man (Ax. 10). Nothing is said about him resigning from his position to become a Christian. Soldiers who serve our country are deserving of our deepest respect. Some of the finest Christians I have known through the years either served for a time in the military or made it their career.
Christians who serve our country in the Armed Forces also have a unique opportunity to serve the Lord and let their light shine around the world. May God bless and protect them. May we honor them. And may we remember those who’ve died serving our country.
In connection with our more recent celebration of Memorial Day, I reflect on the lives of my loved ones who’ve died. My mother. My father. My brother. My grandparents. Aunts. Uncles. And cousins. I also remember my spiritual mentors who’ve made a difference in my life, but now have passed on to their reward. As I consider the spiritual legacy each has left, the words of the wise man ring true. “The memory of the righteous is blessed” (Prov. 10:7).
As I grow older, Memorial Day reminds me of my own mortality. My Mom was right when she faced the reality of death and said to me, “You know, we’re not put on this earth to live forever.” One day someone will come to put flowers on my grave. What legacy will I leave them? And what will they remember about my life?
Today, may we use the gift of memory to express gratitude to the heroic men and women who’ve served and sacrificed for our country. And may the spiritual legacy left by our loved ones find realization, not just in our thoughts, but in our lives.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman
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