Millions of Americans will soon enjoy an extended weekend in celebration of Memorial Day. Officially, the day commemorates men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Its origin dates back to just after the American Civil War, which ended in 1865 and claimed more American lives than any conflict in U.S. history. Many cities began holding memorials each year to honor those who had lost their lives. In 1868, a nationwide remembrance was called for May 30, known as “Decoration Day.” Over the years, it came to be known as Memorial Day and included remembrance of those lost in all wars.
In 1968, congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May, making it a federal holiday. Many take the day to remember not only military personnel, but family members and others who have died. Cemeteries are filled with flowers and wreaths at gravestones as the deceased are remembered and honored.
This national holiday is a subtle reminder of the memorials found in Scripture.
The Book of Joshua records how the Israelites needed to cross the Jordan River though it was at flood stage. As soon as the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant (representing God’s presence) entered the river, the waters upstream stood in a heap, allowing everyone to cross on dry ground. Once everyone was safely across, Joshua instructed one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to remove a large stone from the Jordon and build a memorial. The stones would remind the Israelites of God’s incredible power and deliverance (Joshua 3-4).
The greatest remembrance is that of Jesus at the Last Supper. Gathering with His disciples the night before His crucifixion, Jesus took the bread and cup, offering specific instructions about their significance. The apostle Paul well summarizes the night:
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Each time we celebrate Communion and hold in our hands the symbolic elements, we remember Christ’s suffering and death on our behalf. We recall the weight of our sins that Jesus willingly took upon himself because of His great love for us. And, we look with eagerness to His return when we will be with Christ forever in paradise.
This Memorial Day, let us remember: Remember to rightfully honor those who have given their lives for our many freedoms. Remember Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. And, remember to look forward to a great reunion with Jesus and fellow believers.