Remembering Memorial Day
It’s the start of the Memorial Day weekend — the first days of summer, our culture tells us. It’s time to fire up the grill, make a trip to the beach or do something else that kicks off these supposed lazy days of summer.
But Memorial Day began not as a kickoff to summer but as a remembrance of those who have fallen in the fights to defend our freedoms. We also have Veterans Day in the fall to remember all those who served, but it is Memorial Day in which we set aside a special day to remember those who didn’t make it back.
The Bible doesn’t have a specific text that centers on Memorial Day, but the images of remembering those who have fallen in the fight of faith abound throughout.
We hear them when we celebrate the lives of those close to us when they leave us. Like the text in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, not even death; the wonderful Romans 14:8 passage where Paul reminds us that, “If we live, we live unto the Lord; if we die, we die unto the Lord. So then whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.”
It might sound strange because it has been exploited for all kinds of horror movies, but the book of Revelation is also a text filled with remembrances of those who have gone before us. It can be a scary book until you remember that Revelation was written in a time of great persecution of the church, so John of Patmos had to write in code words, using images to help them keep the faith.
In the seventh chapter, when the angel of the Lord is taking John around to see all of the sites of heaven, they see the 144,000 — a number denoting completion or fulfillment, not an exact number — those who sing God’s praises in all sorts of languages. When John asks who these are, the angel tells him, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
Passages like that remind us that God is not just the Lord of the living, but of that great cloud of witnesses who have passed on. If we have hope only for this life we are of all people most to pity, Paul writes. And yet we also have hope in this life — to live our lives as faithfully, lovingly and joyfully as those who have gone before us.
With that in mind, Memorial Day can be not just a day of sadness as we reflect on those who have fallen; but a day of thanksgiving for all those who were willing to give of themselves for others, those whose place in heavenly glory and wonder is secure.
Rev. Dr. Tom Robinson is pastor of Farmville Presbyterian Church. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.