The last Monday in May means different things to Americans: picnics and family outings, putting flowers on graves of loved ones, perhaps a parade or special event, and for some, sales at the mall. But we can find God as we remember fallen heroes on Memorial day, celebrating in the proper spirit.
Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, was originally instituted to honor the Civil War dead. Local observances were held as early as 1866, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried.
The first official and large observance took place on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, which held the remains of twenty thousand Union soldiers and several hundred Confederate dead. Five thousand people attended the ceremony. The speaker urged the audience to tend the graves of the dead soldiers to testify that our country had not forgotten the cost of a free, undivided republic.
New York was the first state to declare the holiday, in 1873; other states quickly followed. After World War I, citizens expanded the observance to honor those who died in all American wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and changed the date to the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend.
Many people feel that the original meaning and spirit of Memorial Day has faded. According to usmemorialday.org, a site dedicated to its restoration, the day used to be “a solemn day of mourning, a sacred day of remembrance”. It stresses that:
“We need to remember with sincere respect those who paid the price for our freedoms; we need to keep in sacred remembrance those who died serving their country. We need to never let them be forgotten.”
The site also discusses legislation introduced by Senator Inouye for the restoration of the traditional day of observance of Memorial Day back to May 30th. Visitors can sign a petition to that effect. Also from this site is the quote:
“On Memorial Day we need to stop and pay with sincere conviction our respects for those who died protecting and preserving the freedoms we enjoy, for we owe those honored dead more than we can ever repay.”
This year we can put that advice in practice as we take time to remember our fallen heroes. If we also meditate on the sacrifice that Jesus made to free us from the penalty of sin, we will find God on Memorial Day in a special way.
Spend a few moments watching this moving tribute to fallen heroes, and also remember those who are still serving our country:
©Dianne Neal Matthews. Dianne is a freelance writer and the author of The One Year Women of the Bible and three other daily devotional books. Visit her at www.DianneNealMatthews.com or @DianneNMatthews.