Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day,” is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings; there is strong evidence pointing to Southern women’s groups and schoolchildren who decorated Confederate graves in various cities to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the War Between the States. These observances quickly spread across the country, and in 1868 fallen soldiers of both the Confederate and Union armies were honored at Arlington National Cemetery.
By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces in all wars. Since the late 50’s, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Sadly, the traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. There are still many people who visit cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service, but far too many of our countrymen have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are ignored and neglected; many towns that once held Memorial Day parades and remembrances now only celebrate a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer.
Yesterday at First Baptist, we took time at the beginning of our worship service to pay special tribute to all those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. We also believe it is both a delight and a duty to thank all those who have returned from defending our great nation. Almost every one of them has been wounded in some way by what they witnessed and went through. Some of those veterans are now dealing with physical challenges; others are burdened with emotional challenges; and still others are struggling with mental challenges.
To be sure, we can never repay them for their sacrifice, and simply saying “Thank you” doesn’t seem like enough, but it is something we should all do – not only this day, but every day. All of them deserve to be part of a moment in which we pause and simply say, “THANK YOU!”
Because of that price these men and women paid with their blood, we have the freedom to gather . . . to praise . . . and to worship in God’s house weekly without fear of persecution. As Americans, each Memorial Day we should remember those who gave everything that we might live free.
Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)
Who better to speak of sacrifice than our Sacrificial Lamb? Jesus calls it a “greater love” when we are willing to lay down our lives for others. Every fallen American soldier has demonstrated this greater love for all of us. Let us give God praise and thanks for their willingness to lavish this greater love on us.
And yet, in Christ we see an even higher, more exalted love. We see the Good Shepherd’s humble willingness to lay His life down for His sheep. “He humbled Himself,” the Bible says, “and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8).
The very essence of self-sacrifice and sacrificial love is found in Christ alone.
And there is something truly amazing to notice about the sacrifice of our Savior. Unlike those who sacrificed their lives for their “friends” (fellow man), Christ sacrificed Himself for His enemies!
The Bible says in Romans 5:19, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!”
And in Colossians 1:21 it says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”
It’s one thing to lay down your life for a friend, but it’s another thing altogether to do if for your enemy . . . and that is exactly what we were when Jesus took our place and died on our cross. We were rebels running from our Savior, not toward Him. We were clinging to the throne of our lives, with no thought whatsoever of relinquishing the throne to Jesus.
Yet in spite of our unwavering enmity toward our Savior, He laid down His life for us . . . WOW! Isn’t that amazing! Truly this is a love that we simply cannot fully comprehend. A love so amazing that it would die for its enemies.
So on this Memorial Day, let us remember all those brave men and women of our armed forces who gave their all for our freedom. Let us honor their memory by doing all we can to support all those who are currently serving in our armed forces around the globe, as well as all of our returning veterans and their families.
And as we remember our veterans, let us also remember our Lord Jesus Christ and the unimaginable sacrifice He offered on our behalf. Remember that He took our beating, our mocking, our nails, our crown of thorns, our forsaking by the Father, and ultimately our death . . . all so that we who believe in Him by faith might have eternal life.
This is God’s Word … This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”