Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:13 NKJV)
First celebrated on May 30, 1868, Memorial Day has changed dramatically in its appearance over the past 144 years. Originally set aside as a date following the Civil War on which each side could remember their fallen it was changed again following World War I as national day to remember all of our nation’s fallen and a day on which all of the graves of those who died supporting freedom would be cared for.
Traditionally celebrated on May 30 since its initial proclamation, Congress decided in 1971 to move the observance of Memorial Day to the last Monday in May so as to insure everyone got a three-day weekend. And therein lies what may be the biggest downfall of Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love a three-day weekend but what used to a single day set aside to for the singular purpose of remembering sacrifice has instead become an excuse for an extra long weekend of parties, cookouts, trips to the beach, and yard work. I am thankful for the 1200 or so soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the “Old Guard” who place small flags at the graves of the more than 260,000 men and women buried at Arlington National Cemetery and spend their holiday weekend, Thursday through Monday, patrolling the grounds 24-hours a day to make sure each of those flags remain upright. I am thankful too for the Boy and Girl Scouts who each year spend their holiday weekends tending the graves of veterans at national cemeteries around this nation. Were it not for these soldiers and scouts, and of course those friends and family members who have been personally touched by death’s sting, many of the those who died for freedom and are buried in our U.S. soil would be forgotten on account of this three day weekend originally set aside to make sure we didn’t. Neither should we forget those who have served and death has spared but who have still given so much of themselves for our freedoms. And just as important, do not forget the families of those who have served and fallen; for them, every day is Memorial Day. Families serve too.
Just as many of you would not think twice about letting Christmas pass without reading the Christmas story from scripture and sharing with your children the true meaning of holiday, and the same of Easter, I challenge you also to take time today to share with your children and reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day. Don’t let the American flag you hang outside your home today take on the same shallow meaning the Christmas Tree has become for most; its not merely a symbol of celebration but one of freedom and sacrifice. Celebrate your freedom today, but also remember the fallen. At 3pm today, stop along with the rest of the nation for the National Moment of Remembrance; “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.” How I wish more Americans truly knew or understood the heart wrenching emotion felt during the playing of Taps that comes only with knowing personally the sacrifice which it represents.
What happens Tuesday when the holiday is over? Remember, the meaning of Memorial Day then as well. When you go to work, you are working at job or in a career of your own choosing, and earning a wage greater than 90% of others living here on earth while likely only working five days each week. Going to school and receiving your education is a privilege. Going to church or your midweek small group Bible study is right you have protected under the Constitution. Driving, shopping, watching TV, and playing are other activities we often take for granted. Each of these rights and privileges we have today, however, have been bought and paid for by the sacrifice of others; from the bloodied sands of Iwo Jima and Normandy to the streets of Fallujah and the mountains of Afghanistan.
With everything else you have planned in your busy lives, please don’t forget today, and each day, is a Memorial Day, and most importantly, don’t forget why.