For most Americans Memorial Day weekend is a great three-day weekend that kicks off the summer. It is a time for sitting on the patio and grilling, perhaps a time for that first trip to the mountains, but that is not really what Memorial Day is about at all.
Originally, Memorial Day was known as Decoration Day because it was a time set aside to honor the nation’s Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868.
During that first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.
After World War I, Memorial Day observances began to honor not only Civil War veterans, but those who had died in all of America’s wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. On this day we honor every soldier, every sailor, and every civilian who died to make and keep us free.
By the same token, we also ought to remember the one who has set us free from SPIRITUAL TYRANNY. IN Jesus, God entered the world. IN Jesus, God expressed his love for us. THROUGH Jesus, we are made ACCEPTABLE to God.
We celebrate our national Memorial Day once a year to remember those who died for freedom, but EVERY day is a celebration of the Memorial of Christ, every day is a memorial day for a believer.
On our national Memorial Day, we mourn the loss, remember the lives, and are Thankful for Their sacrifice.
In light of what Jesus MEANS to us, let’s examine the memorial we offer to him in conjunction with this national memorial.
So first, on Memorial Day we…
I. Mourn The Loss
We remember the loved ones who died, we wish they were still here; we wish that we could hold them, talk to them, see them, but we cannot. When people die, we tend to dwell on the “If Only’s”…
“If only I had gone to see them.”
“If only I had told him I loved him.”
“If only I had kissed her one last time.”
“If only I hadn’t spoken so harshly.”
Part of dealing with death is dealing with the guilt we feel because of the “If Only’s.”
In recognizing the Lord’s Memorial Day, we need to deal with our GUILT in the death of Jesus. We were responsible for His death. There is no doubt about that fact. We could say, “If only we had not sinned, He would not have had to die.” We are to blame. We ARE the sinners Jesus died for.
The movie “The Passion” depicted in agonizing detail the sufferings of Jesus. It lingered over the bloody scourging. It depicted every hammer blow on the nails as they were driven through His flesh. It showed the hours of his agony on the cross.
Each us can state emphatically … it all happened because of me. It was for me. I am the one to blame. Jesus was treated as the worst of sinners BECAUSE I am a sinner.
I read an article by a lady (Millie Wilson) in which she described ALL-DAY camp meetings in Kentucky in the 1920s, when she was a small child. The meetings, which lasted all day, were held outdoors in late summer, after the crops had been harvested.
It was blazing hot, so they built brush arbors for some shade. Everyone went. The meetings were non-denominational. They had relays of preachers that would start after breakfast and go to sunset.
They did not have pews obviously. People sat on rough hand-hewn benches. She said she hated those benches. As she put it, after a while both your back and your bottom hurt.
In front of the pulpit, there was one long bench, which was called “the mourner’s bench.” At the end of the mourner’s bench, there was bucket of water and a dipper.
After hours in the summer heat, I imagine that would be a motive to go to the mourner’s bench … to get a drink of water, but that was not the purpose of that bench.
The purpose was, as you might guess from the name, to “mourn for your sins”, and to mourn for the price Jesus had to pay for your sins.
Now the mourner’s bench has disappeared in our day, but it made a valid point. We ALL need to realize how ugly our sins are to God, and we need to realize how great a price Jesus paid for our sins.
The penalty Jesus paid is remembered in the memorial He gave us … the Lord’s Supper. At that Supper, we speak Jesus’ words before we break the bread, and drink the wine.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:24-26
This is what we are to remember – the Lord’s death … the body of Christ was broken on the cross for my sin.
So, on Memorial Day, we not only Mourn The Loss, but we…
II. Remember The Life`
In the death of a loved one, part of our healing is to remember the lives of the dead. It used to be that tombstones were a part of this process. Now we mostly just put a name and a date on a burial marker. In generations past, people tried to say something about the dead.
Even if it was only phrase like “Beloved Daughter,” or “Blessed Mother,” or “Dear Parents,” those families were trying, to articulate their grief in stone. But, sometimes tombstones say something about death or dying. One of the most honest tombstones had this engraved on it …
“Come blooming youths, as you pass by,
And on these lines do cast an eye.
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am now, so must you be;
Prepare for death and follow me.”
Out West, however, on some tombstones we find a bleak type of humor. There is one epitaph in Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona that reads, “He was young, He was fair, But the Injuns, Raised his hair.”
Another reads, “Here lays Butch. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger, but slow on the draw.”
My guess is they did not grieve much over Butch.
But even these messages tell us something about the one who is buried there. Likewise, the epitaph that Jesus left us tells us something about him. The words of I Corinthians 11:24 are inscribed on many communion tables., “Do this in remembrance of me.”
So, what MUST we remember about Jesus? That is simple. We must remember HOW he lived and WHAT he said. Jesus taught us that life is about love. He summarized that in two commandments … love God and love each other. And in 1 John 4:21, Jesus said, “…Anyone who loves God MUST ALSO love their brother and sister.”
Jesus went about doing good, helping people, healing people. Even his death on the cross was about doing good. Thus, perhaps we can remember Jesus by remembering people.
At a commuter train station, a policeman noticed a woman driver with her head bowed over the steering wheel. The police officer asked her, “Is there anything wrong?”
Half crying and half laughing, she said, “For ten years I have been driving my husband to this station every morning to catch this train. This morning, I forgot him”. Don’t you wonder how that situation worked out?
The worst forgetfulness of all though is to forget people. Our purpose, our mission, our task in life is always linked to people. Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 1…
“Praise be … to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Some criticize the apostle Paul’s grammar in that sentence, since Paul tends to be too wordy sometimes, but he makes a great point. He says that God comforts us so that we can comfort others. God ministers to us so that we can minister to others. God loves us so we can love others.
People are always asking, “Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?” Paul says God put us here FOR other people. He says in Philippians 2, “…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:4
We remember Jesus by remembering others. Sometimes our worst sin is that we just do not pay attention to other people.
We are just not listening to what they say or seeing where they are.
A pastor was in his study, preparing his sermon, when his little girl toddled into the room. Holding up her pinched finger, she said, with an expression of suffering, “Look, Daddy, it hurts really bad.” That pastor/father glanced at her and with a tone of impatience, said, “I can’t help it.”
As the little girl turned to leave, she muttered, “You could have said, ‘I’m sorry!’” That was all the girl wanted – some sympathy, but her dad was not listening.
A man put up a sign in his yard that read: “Puppies for Sale.” A young boy asked how much one of the puppies would cost. “Twenty-five dollars,” replied the man.
The boy looked crushed. He said, “I’ve only got two dollars and a quarter.” After a moment he asked, “Could I see them anyway?”
“Of course,” said the man. “Maybe we can work something out.”
“The boy’s eyes danced at the sight of those five little balls of fur. He noticed one had a bad leg. He said, “That’s the puppy I want. Could I pay for her a little at a time?”
The man responded, “I am not going to sell that one. She will always be crippled. She will always walk with a limp.”
Smiling bravely, the boy pulled up one pant leg, revealing a brace. “I don’t walk good either.”
Then, looking at the puppy sympathetically, he continued, “I guess she’ll need a lot of love and help. I sure did. It’s not easy being crippled.”
At that point, the man, with tears in his eyes, said, “Take that puppy and forget the money.”
When we get to the point in our lives that we REALIZE we too are crippled because of our sin, then we can demonstrate sympathy and compassion for others in their pain and suffering.
That is what Jesus did. That is the WAY to remember Jesus. Finally, on Memorial Day we not only…
Mourn the Loss, and Remember the Life, but we also are…Thankful for the Sacrifice
A few weeks before Christmas 1917, World War I raged in Europe. In one place along the lines, Americans were entrenched against the Germans. The fighting was bitter. Separating the trenches was a narrow strip called no-man’s-land.
The Germans had recently attacked across no-man’s land and retreated. A young German soldier severely wounded lay out there entangled in barbed wire. He cried out in pain.
Both sides lay in the trenches and listened to his sobbing cries. Finally, one American could stand it no longer. He crawled out to that German soldier, disentangled him from the wire, slung him across his shoulder, stood up with him and started walking toward the German trenches. The astonished Germans did not shoot him, and the American walked right up to their trenches and gave the wounded soldier into the arms of his comrades. Having done so, he turned and started back to the American side.
Suddenly, there was a hand on his shoulder that spun him around. There stood a German officer who had won the Iron Cross, the highest German honor for bravery. The officer took off the iron cross and placed it on the American. Then, both of them returned to their trenches, and resumed the insanity of war.
That German soldier was thankful for that American soldier’s courageous act. We should be SO much more grateful for the courageous act of Jesus that brought salvation to us simply through our faith and trust in Him and His sacrifice.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11…
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:25
Jesus by his shed blood established a new covenant by which we are made acceptable to God. Our response is to be eternally thankful for His sacrifice.
The author of Hebrews put it like this…
“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ … cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:13-14
In these verses, the author is referring to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. It was a custom to offer animal sacrifices to atone for sin.
This author is essentially saying that if there was any purification at all found in that sacrificial system, how much more is found in Christ who was the perfect sacrifice to purify our conscience, bringing forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God.
Now THAT is something to be thankful for this Memorial Day. Amen.
(please pray with me)
“Father, thank You for the kindness You have shown us. Thank You for our salvation. I pray that You will help us always notice others because they matter to You. Remind us to seek Your will for them. Please show us how we can make a difference and touch one life every day this week. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”