Memorial Day began after the Civil War as an effort toward reconciliation between the families of veterans in the North and the South. After the war, there was already a tradition in the North of decorating soldiers’ graves, called “Decoration Day.” In 1868 an organization of Northern war veterans decreed it ought to be a national holiday. May 30th was carefully chosen as the date because it was not the anniversary of a specific battle and therefore would be a neutral date for both sides.
Human beings hold on to their wounds, and reconciliation takes time, grace and mercy. So initially, as the holiday spread, it was an occasion for both sides to give angry speeches about the other side, and how their own side was right! However, as time went on, Memorial Day really did become a time to remember all those who gave “the last full measure of devotion.” It’s a time to visit the graves of family and friends, and to remember their lives.
For those who follow Jesus, remembering is at the core of who we are. You see, in many ways our faith depends on remembering. We have a God who surrounds us with memorials. The Bible itself is a memorial because as we read the stories of faith, we remember. The Sabbath was a memorial to Israel’s freedom from Egyptian slavery. The early church switched it to Sundays as a memorial to Christ’s resurrection. Israel’s great gathering feast days were memorials. And each time a local church gathers, each time the Eucharist is celebrated, each baptism, each Christmas celebration, and each Easter celebration, we remember!
So, as we celebrate Memorial Day as Americans, let us never forget the men and women who laid down their lives so that we might be free. And as people of faith, let us never forget all that God has done for us, through us and sometimes in spite of us.