Yesterday, we celebrated Memorial Day in the United States. This holiday was formerly called Decoration Day because we decorated the tombs of our loved ones who had paid the ultimate price for our freedom. The moniker Memorial Day is more likely attuned to the intent of the day. While placing flags or flowers on tombstones is appropriate, we should take time to actually remember the fallen: remember the sacrifice they made by giving their life for our cause, remember the families who have shared in that terrible cost at the loss of their spouse, son or daughter, mother or father, remember the life that was lost while we enjoy the freedoms that their actions provided.
By setting aside a day to remember, we create a specific time when we can teach our children and grandchildren that our freedoms and rights are not cheaply obtained. They are costly, and they are precious.
In the Gettysburg Address presented at a dedication ceremony for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the U.S. Civil War, just a few months after the war had ended, President Abraham Lincoln rendered words that have resounded through the decades:
The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Lincoln understood that the individual and cultural memory of significant events in the personal or corporate life of citizens must be maintained or the past actions will dissolve into an ethereal cloud without form or substance — in short, it will be lost.
The people of Israel in the Old Testament knew this because God specifically directed that there be standing stones, pillars if you will, that were to serve as reminders of the mighty acts of God on the people’s behalf.
While there are many examples in the Old Testament, one is found in Joshua chapter 4, when the people of Israel had just crossed over the Jordan River on dry ground. God told Joshua that he should take twelve stones from the middle of the river and put them on dry land as a monument for future generations to see and learn of God’s acts.
And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
Using markers to spark our memory is also found in the New Testament where we are reminded to remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by a very different monument, the words of our Lord at the Passover Meal just before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion. We call it the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. Paul described it as follows:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
At this season of remembrance, remember the sacrifice that provides freedom from sin and that gives life for all eternity, this eternal liberty comes from faith and belief in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross of Calvary.
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
There is no other way to achieve salvation and eternal life — not our works and not the works or prayers of others. Christ alone offers eternal life.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you have trusted in Christ, praise His glorious name and thank Him for all that He has done for you, in this world and in the next. If you do not know Christ, read the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind and heart so that you realize your sin and you can claim the forgiveness and glorious freedom from sin’s bondage that is available to you through Christ Jesus.
Take the opportunity this week to set aside a time to remember family members who served in the military, or those whose company we no longer have due to death from whatever cause. Thank them for their service if they are still with us, and if not, thank the Lord for the benefits we have through the sacrifices that these individuals made. It is fitting and appropriate that we should do so, as individual citizens and, collectively, as a country.
But also remember the acts of God that have shaped your life. In memory of … have you set up your “pillar of stones” so that you are reminded of all the times God has preserved you and led you through days of sorrow and trouble, into the peaceful valley of His presence?
In memory of … you fill in the blank and then praise the Lord for His goodness and mercy.
Father, thank You for the land of America, for the forefathers who struggled and fought to live in a land where we have the right to worship without interference from the government, a land based on Your Word and Your Commandments. Thank You, too, for those who have fought to keep our freedom sacred. Guide this land and its citizens as we move forward in these times of stress, uncertainty and hatred. Father, thank You for Jesus Christ, Who is our Savior and Lord. Help us to honor Him and rejoice in His work on our behalf. Enlighten those who read this missive and have not accepted Jesus as Lord of their life … I pray that your Spirit would guide them into the knowledge of our Lord and His salvation.