Memorial Day is a practice that began in 1868. On May 30 of that year, General John Alexander Logan, an officer in the recently concluded Civil War, ordered that a special day ought to be observed so the gravesites from that painful conflict might be decorated. In fact, the holiday we’re celebrating today has often been called Decoration Day.
What is the point of Memorial Day? Just that – remembering.
It’s been twelve years now since 9/11. Even the recent loss of Malaysian Flight 370 is old news. Tragedies happen and good people die and we pay attention for a very brief while, a couple of “news cycles.” But then the horrific story fades away; it doesn’t lead the evening news any longer. TIME moves on to other cover stories. Most of us slowly returned to a more normal way of life. There are jobs to attend to and parties to attend and my nephews Alex and Nicholas graduate in just a week or two from now and major league baseball games to think about. We can only focus our attention on bombs and tears and funerals for so long.
But I’m sure in the minds of those who lost loved ones, or who have sacrificed a husband on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan, one heart-cry still wants to be heard. DON’T FORGET!! “Please, America, don’t forget that this happened! Don’t forget that WE’RE still hurting! Please don’t lose sight of the horrible thing that happened here. Our pain is still real. We want what we went through to count for something.”
Again, that’s really what Memorial Day is all about. NOT forgetting. It’s a day to think, to remember, to bring back to the front page the stories of sacrifice that have slipped to the back pages of our memories.
Prolific writer Arthur Hailey has a book entitled Wheels, which describes the fast-paced and cynical world of the automotive industry. A racing car driver named Pierre is killed in a race on a Saturday afternoon. Well, it’s a sad moment for all of his sponsoring corporation auto-executive friends, but, after all, life does have to go on. Sunday morning, when it’s time for the second race in the two-day event, they’ve all returned to their box seats in the grandstand.
Lo and behold, on this day, their driver wins! First place! He takes the checkered flag and begins the slow victory lap.
Of course, all of these company executives know what a win means to their bottom line. And they begin the traditional chant: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!! Win on Sunday, sell on Monday!!”
In the middle of the celebrating, one young wife, conscience-stricken, cries out through her tears: “Wait a minute! Sunday? Monday? What about SATURDAY? Yesterday? Pierre DIED yesterday! Twenty-four hours ago! How could you forget so soon?”
We don’t want that to happen to us.
It’s one of the great conundrums of a sin-filled world that we can hate the evil of war . . . and still be grateful for the men and women who have given their lives in all the wars.
Think about it. As far as I can see, war is evil! It’s a stupid, tragic, evil invention of the devil. What is war except two groups of people lining up in a field somewhere and then shooting as many of each other as possible. For what? To prove what? After thousands of years of earth’s history, what’s ever been gained? Young boys, not even men yet, lining up in the field to kill each other. If your side kills forty thousand and our side kills fifty thousand, we win. It’s a sad and horrible tragedy.
And yet there’s been so much bravery. So many who faced the horror of imminent death and they faced it to defend you and me. Our men and women have gone over to Europe and to Korea and to Vietnam and to Mogadishu and Bosnia and all around the world, facing the chilling specter of death-at-any-moment . . . and they did it for the sake of protecting someone else. They didn’t die for themselves, they died for others. Before D-Day, FDR got on the radio and said a prayer for our American boys about to unselfishly hit the beaches, “to set free a suffering humanity.”
And so, despite the evil of war, we honor today the goodness and selflessless of these brave men and women.
I counted once – and out of 57,685 names, there are sixteen “David Smith’s” etched on the black marble of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. I missed the draft and the Vietnam War by about a year. I’m here. I’m healthy and happy and alive. But there are sixteen families where parents and a widow and kids live without David Smith joining them around the barbecue pit this Memorial Day. All across America are mothers or fathers or loved ones who still weeps right now, May 26, 2014. Memorial Day is a day of tears for the parents and the kids and the still grieving widows. And as they look at the photo on their mantel they want to go up to the second floor and cry out their windows so that the whole world can hear them: “Don’t forget! Remember what my son, my husband, my dad, did for you, America! Here’s the telegram I got, telling how he bled and died! Please don’t forget!”
It’s almost an obscene tragedy when we forget and take something like this day lightly. Kids burst into applause when the teachers remind them, “Remember, now, there’s no school Monday.” “Cool! No school!” And that’s all it is to so many people. A holiday, a chance to sleep in and not go in to the office.
It’s a tragedy when we take lightly the things we should take seriously. There’s a time and a place for horsing around, for playing, but not around that Vietnam Memorial. Parents take their restless kids firmly by the arm and tell them, “Now, hush! Be quiet! You can play . . . but NOT HERE.” We don’t play at that memorial. We stop and think of what those 57,685 soldiers gave for us. We stop and REMEMBER.
Now let me get to the punch line. On Memorial Day, also please don’t forget . . . THE CROSS. Today of all days, please remember the cross of Jesus Christ and His death for you and for me.
It’s so easy to forget! That’s why, as a Christian, I’m grateful for every reminder we can find – whether it’s a baptism or a cross on a church steeple or a billboard or even the weekly gift of Sabbath remembering. From a Christian perspective, I’m especially thankful for Memorial Day, because I don’t ever want to forget.
Can you imagine how Mary, the Mother of Jesus, must have wanted to cry out to the world that Friday night on Calvary: “Don’t forget! No matter how much time goes by, even after two thousand years, please don’t ever forget what my Boy has done for you!”
And what a tragedy when the cross of Jesus becomes trivial. You can go into a record store and see casual, careless crosses on the CD covers of hard-driving rock-and-roll albums. You see the cross stuck on blue jeans. You see it flippantly worn as punk-rock jewelry.
Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith has a song where he poses the question: “Tell me why you wear your cross of gold.” “Is it jewelry?” he wants to know. “Cheap decoration?” He then says something we should all add our voices to: “It means a lot more than that to me.”
Friend, right now, at this very moment in time . . . REMEMBER. Please remember the cross. God bless you, everyone. And God bless America.