A Day to Honor, A Day to Remember, A Day to Look Forward
by Dale Reeves
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed in the years following the Civil War. This war, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of our nation’s first national cemeteries. Waterloo, New York, is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day. This town first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, when local businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. A few years later, General John Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30, 1868. On this first national Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Many northern states held similar commemorative events and by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. It wasn’t until 1968 that Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. And so, we set aside this last Monday in May to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military.
Free to Celebrate
Unofficially, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season as people gather together to watch a parade, picnic, barbecue, hit the swimming pool, or hit the road for an early summer vacation. This year, just like Easter and Mother’s Day the past month, feels a little different, doesn’t it? It feels like we are just beginning to come out of a fog, a very long winter, and we are unsure exactly what the future holds. We’re not totally sure what sports we’ll be watching and participating in this summer. We’re not sure when we will safely be able to gather together physically in the church building again. We’re wondering if there will be a resurgence of cases of coronavirus this summer and autumn, and how that will affect what school will look like in the fall.
While we are considering our options this summer, and trying to get back to some sense of routine in our lives, I would encourage us all to pause on this day and give thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy.
- Give thanks to God that he has made a way for you to be rescued from the darkness and sin that so wants to drag you down.
“Giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:12, 13, NLT).
- Give thanks to God for the freedom and privilege we enjoy in gathering with his body, the church, either through online groups, Bible studies, and worship experiences—or through physical face-to-face meetings.
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24, 25, NLT).
- Give thanks to God for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in laying down their lives for the cause of freedom so that we could still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Proverbs 10:7, ESV).
Free to Dream
Recently I came across these words from the president of global retail markets for a well-known insurance company. Within the past month, this letter was sent out to all employees of this national company, and I think it speaks to reasons for us to remember, give thanks, and honor today.
“In times of adversity we discover who we are and what we’re made of. We have experienced disruption, stress and anxiety, sickness, and sadness in our corporate family. While the situation has been very difficult for so many, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride in our nearly 50,000 people across the globe, and pride in the shared values and resilience that we have demonstrated like never before. We have acted responsibly, put people first, and made things better—not just with words, but with actions. . . . We will re-emerge stronger, better, and closer together.
“While these weeks and months have been and will continue to be difficult for us in many ways, I am heartened by the way we have all responded and by the renewed appreciation this time is giving us for what is truly important. Time to ease off from what had become a hectic lifestyle for many of us, and to reflect on the things and relationships that matter the most. . . . Our values are what anchor us, our mission is what sustains us, and our leadership is what will propel us forward as we write the next chapters together.”
On this Memorial Day, even as we look back at the past and give honor to whom honor is due, will you look to the future and will you pray these three prayers with me:
- That this will be a time of great unifying for our country and our world.
- That families will get back to what they’re called to be—the growing, nurturing, stabilizing influence in our society.
- That God will use this time to bring about a great spiritual awakening in our nation and in our world.