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Memorial Day 2023


5/28/2023


John 15:13

Greater love hath no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.


Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War, on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in battle. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.


Memorial Day is differentiated from Veterans Day by the lives lost. On Memorial Day we honor those who gave their lives during battle. Veterans Day honors those who served during a war. To add further confusion, our Memorial Day began as Decoration Day and was changed in 1971. The British still have “Decoration Day”, honoring the fallen, which they celebrate on the same day we celebrate Veterans Day. So, it is no mystery why we get confused about the essence of these holidays.


It was in 1868 when General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.” It is a day of remembrance, although our culture has morphed it into a day of celebration.


Memorial Day, like so many of our holidays, is a mixture of solemnity and spiritual significance, as well as cultural lightheartedness. We will lay flowers at the grave of a relative, friend, or other loved one who died in battle and then have a picnic and go to rib cook-offs. We shop for furniture, sheets, paint, and cars, and then contemplate the freedoms we have because of the sacrifices men and women have made on our behalf.


It is a holiday that we grow into. Our concepts about it mature as we ourselves mature. As children, it is more about the beginning of summer and a day off from school. But as we mature, we see more meaning in the nature of the holiday. I say this without criticism or judgment. A holiday is meaningful precisely for the meaning that we give it.


The military is split over whether to say, “Happy Memorial Day,” or not. I was once scolded by a lady for saying it. Memorial Day is not a happy day for everyone. Gold Star Families, or Families of the Fallen, are those families who have lost an immediate member in war – a son, daughter, sister, brother, father, or mother. For these families Memorial Day is hard, some of them have said it is the most difficult day of their lives except for the day that they lost their loved one. Yet they must relive this day yearly.


We may not say, “Happy Memorial Day,” but we can say, “I wish you a meaningful Memorial Day.” We can also honor those who have fallen by visiting their grave sites or attending a local Memorial Day Parade. We could watch the National Memorial Day Parade that will air online at americanveterancenter.org on Monday 11:00am Pacific Time.


For me, Memorial Day is significant for the gratitude that arises from my heart; the gratitude for the sacrifice that others were willing to make on my behalf -- not knowing me, not knowing I would even be around to enjoy the benefits of their sacrifice. That makes me stop and ponder my life. Anything that causes us to pause and appreciate our blessings is a good thing.


Many countries around the world celebrate their own version of Memorial Day. Each country celebrates theirs on a different day, and each with different traditions. But the purpose is the same, to honor and commemorate those who gave their lives in war to defend their country.


Because of fear, it is easy for us to move to an unhealthy ‘nationalism’ when we look upon other countries and the love their citizens have for their own home. When threatened, we tend toward a ‘tribal’ mentality; an ancient set of behaviors that dominated pre-civilized times.


Christ came to expand the awareness of our social identification through his command to love one another. He teaches us to see past our tribal tendencies and behave like the Good Samaritan, caring for those outside our own religion and social circles. When we are God-attuned enough, we appreciate every soul who has lost their life in battle or those who have given their lives in civic duty so that we can live the life we do today. They gave their life for God and country, and we all benefit for it.


Some of us have personally lost a loved one or relative in battle. But many more of us know of someone who has suffered that loss, and most of us have suffered the loss of someone close to us outside of war. For me, Memorial Day is a time to consider the loved ones that I have lost even if they were not lost on the field of battle. I think of my Dad, what he meant to me, and all that he sacrificed on my behalf. I think of other family members and friends and remember all the good that they brought into the world while they lived. They may not have laid down their life for me, but I am a recipient of their having lived. My wife, parents, children, family, friends, members of this church, teachers, co-workers, managers, and total strangers have aided me, supported me, and given of themselves for me.


Many, many people have given of themselves for us. No, it has not always been the ultimate sacrifice as that of the fallen soldiers or of Christ. But still, there are reasons for each of us to be grateful for the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf, most of which we are totally unaware.


Memorial Day can be a call to attention; a time to self-assess what we are giving to others, and a time to re-evaluate our thankfulness levels. This holiday, above all others, helps us realize that freedom is not free; there is a price to pay personally as well as a nation. We send our children off to war; that is the price a nation pays for peace and freedom.


Personally, we must abandon our habit of reacting with base instincts as our first reaction to the challenges of the world. Personal freedom is found behind fear. It is Christ’s instruction that we give in all circumstances – love one another, reach out, and appreciate the blessings of life, including its people. He teaches us to live life to the fullest because we do not know how long we have. Christ says in John 10:10 – “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”


Memorial Day is a time to reflect, to be grateful, and to give tribute. It is also a time to reflect, act, and walk in the light of Spirit. Spirit encourages us to enlarge our tribe. Perhaps someday we will see ourselves as God sees us: where every nation is one, where we are all part of one large family, and where every fallen soul regardless of country, is seen as worthy of our gratitude. It is, after all, what Christ is asking us to do – to love our neighbor.


No one has greater love than this – that one would lay down his life for his friends.” So, as we celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow, we pay tribute to, first and foremost, the men and women who have given their lives in our nation’s wars, but also to the men and women who have given their lives in times of civic disasters and other emergencies over the years. In addition, we honor and remember all those who have passed through our lives having served us, supported us, and given of themselves on our behalf.


This is also the time to turn a thought to Christ and appreciate the love given us. May we embrace that love; it encourages us to make our own sacrifices for those in need and enables us to feel the inner peace that eases our troubled hearts and calms our fears.


It is my prayer that our hearts hold compassion for every family on earth that has lost a loved one in battle. We may call them enemies, but in truth they are just young men and women commanded to action by governments and leaders who hold values different from ours. In God’s eyes we are all children of one family, worthy of love and Divine Care.


So, until there is peace on earth, let us hold a high watch for each other and remember. In that spirit, I wish you a profoundly grateful and meaningful Memorial Day. God bless you.

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