The Civil War was the deadliest in American history. The blood of over 600,000 American soldiers stained the soil of nearly every state of the divided union. The South was in shambles. The North was reeling.
So began the long and still unfinished process of healing.
In the weeks and months following the war, grieving families and friends would often decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers. In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, declared May 30th to be Decoration Day, a day to adorn the tombs of fallen soldiers with the newly blossoming flowers of spring.
In 1882, the name Memorial Day was used for the first time, but did not become the official name for the holiday until 1967. In 1971, the date was changed to the last Monday of May to allow for a three day weekend.
Sadly for many in our country today, that is all Memorial Day is – a three day weekend to start the summer, an opportunity to camp and cookout.
Memorial Day, however, means much more than hot dogs and apple pie and sales at WalMart.
Memorial Day is literally a day to remember – a day to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We honor their memory by decorating their graves. We honor their memory by holding fast to the freedoms for which they died. We honor their sacrifice by remembering.
As I remember their tremendous sacrifice, though, I can’t help but think of another sacrifice. Though I can never sufficiently thank those who fought and died for the freedoms I enjoy, I still struggle to call their sacrifice “the ultimate sacrifice.”
For me that phrase is reserved for the sacrifice Jesus offered on the altar of the cross. Jesus didn’t just suffer the horrors of war. He suffered the horrors of the hell I deserve. He didn’t just die to give me the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He died to give me freedom from sin and the eternal happiness of heaven.
As Christians, we don’t have just one Memorial Day a year to remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. We have a Memorial Meal he himself gave us so we would never forget his body and blood which died so we might live.
Sadly, though, for many of us the Sacrament of Holy Communion can become as mundane as Memorial Day has become for many Americans – a simple snack we eat on Sunday during church.
Never forget what Holy Communion means. In the Sacrament, Jesus gives us his body and blood so we never forget the ultimate sacrifice he offered for our freedom. He gives us his body and blood so we always remember the gift of forgiveness and heaven he gives.
On this Memorial Day, I encourage you to remember – to honor the memory of the over 1.2 million soldiers who have died defending our freedoms and lives. But also take time to remember the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for you. Honor his memory by celebrating his Memorial Meal every chance you get.
Honor his sacrifice by remembering.