My grandparents called Memorial Day “Decoration Day.” Memorial Day dates back to three years after the Civil War (before their time), when the head of an organization of Union veterans established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. It is believed that date — May 30 — was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
Another interesting story of the origination of Memorial Day is that African Americans, all former slaves, founded Decoration Day at the graveyard of 257 Union soldiers labeled “Martyrs of the Race Course,” a few years earlier in Charleston, SC.
Regardless of the actual beginning, for all Americans, Memorial Day is a great day to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. This day is a holiday, a day of remembrance, a day to remember “lest we forget.”
I remember the very first Men’s Study that I participated in included a book called The 12 Stones and was a study of the book of Joshua.
4 When all the people had crossed the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. 3 Tell them, ‘Take twelve stones from the very place where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan. Carry them out and pile them up at the place where you will camp tonight.’”4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5 He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the LORD your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder — twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6 We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:4-7)
These stones that Joshua had been told to assemble were memorials. It was a reminder to the people that God had done something amazing, that the Jordan River had been stopped for the 12 tribes of Israel to cross over.
When our two kids were very young, my wife bought a book written by Shirley Dobson and Gloria Gaither called Let’s Make a Memory. These two women encouraged young moms to be sure to make memories, to create traditions for the family that the children would remember. To this day (and my daughter recently confirmed), the kids remember going out to breakfast the first day of school and dad’s famous “egg sausage soufflé” on Christmas morning.
The great memories and traditions are like vacation souvenirs without the dust.
The Bible has more to say about making memories.
Deuteronomy 4:9: “But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of our your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.”
I’ve had a little time to think about it, and likely there are three really good reasons that we are reminded to remember.
1) Traditions, memories and memorials help us remember the past. The significant milestones — including graduations, the birth of children, family vacations, holidays — all help us remember the blessings and good times. Even the scars on our hands and knees, the previous wounds that have healed, help remind us of faithfulness, our healing and restoration. These all represent and remind us of both the good and the bad that make us who we are
2)Remembering keeps us grounded in the present. One of the more common movie and TV plots are portraying people with amnesia. It’s always amusing to see all of the problems they get into. Our remembering keeps us present. We all have tasks to accomplish, friends and colleagues we interact with daily, and much that needs to be accomplished. We need to remember who we are and what we are called to do.
3) Remembering the past and being grounded in the present keeps us focused on our future. All of us are headed towards eternity, and keeping that in focus provides clarity and comfort in the present.
I remember my first trip to Europe; I didn’t get to fly business class with my boss and his boss, but I flew coach. It was small plane, but the trip passed quickly, without much discomfort, as I knew where I was going. It needs to be the same for us with regard to eternity.
Hebrews 12:1-3 summarizes this opportunity:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Ken Behr is an executive pastor at Christ Fellowship, Palm Beach Gardens, FL.