Tomorrow is our annual Memorial Day holiday.
What do you think of when you think of Memorial Day – the beginning of summer vacation, barbecues in the back yard, family get-togethers?
In most churches Memorial Day is generally ignored because it is not one of the holy days on the church calendar. But I think it would be good for us to think about what Memorial Day really represents – its very name calls us to remember.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day to honor and remember those who died in our nation’s military service. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873, and by 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. It is now celebrated on the last Monday of May.
However, it is not important when and where Memorial Day was first celebrated. What is important is that Memorial Day was established at all.
Unfortunately, traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans today have forgotten the meaning and traditions of “Memorial Day.” At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are increasingly ignored and neglected. This is very likely because we no longer have a mandatory military service, but basically a paid army. It is ironic that the United States is still engaged in a war after 13 years – the longest war in our nation’s history, and yet, this patriotic and important day established to honor soldiers living and dead, has lost much of its meaning. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades.
Not only do we salute and honor our military on Memorial Day, but also we celebrate our independence as a nation. Let us not forget that our independence was bought with a price—the price of blood on the battlefields. Thousands of men and women, supported by wives, mothers and sisters, fathers and brothers, fought for our freedom.
Think of the numbers of those who died to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today:
Revolutionary War – 25,324
Civil War – 498,332
World War I – 116,710
World War II – 407,316
Korean War – 54,546
Vietnam War – 58,098
First Gulf War – 293
Iraq War – 55,000
Afghanistan – 2,223
Over 1.1 million men and women have died to guarantee our freedom as Americans. Today we need to think about those who fought and have given their lives to ensure that we could enjoy the freedom we have.
Notice the number of people affected by earlier wars is greater than those who currently serve – just another sign that we are far removed from the sacrifices of war with a volunteer military.
When I was a child (a military brat), if we lived within 10 hours of where I was born, we went back to celebrate Memorial Day. We laid flowers on graves, put flags on those graves of soldiers, visited those who came back from wars, and celebrated their giving to this country with parades and cook-outs and church services.
There wasn’t a resident in our little town, and in every town in America that wasn’t affected by the wars – we all knew a neighbor, a schoolmate, a relative who went to war to serve their country. They may not have had any choice because they had been drafted but many went voluntarily.
- they fought,
- and not all came back.
When they returned, the town joyfully greeted those came back and mourned those who were left on foreign soil or returned in body bags. The wars and those serving were part of their community.
Jesus told us:
- Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
and that is exactly what Jesus did. . .
and exactly what our fallen soldiers have done.
The Memorial Day holiday was established to honor those who served, are serving and, especially those who died while serving in the military.
Please stand up if you have served or are currently serving in the military?
- To all who are serving or have served and survived, we thank you.
How many of you had parents, fathers, uncles, aunts, mothers who served in World War II or Korea?
- For all who served to ensure that we would continue to enjoy the freedoms we have, we thank you.
Would everyone who had a relative killed in a war stand up?
- For all who served and paid the ultimate price, we ask for them eternal rest and peace.
To all family members whose loved ones gave their lives in the service of others, thank you for your own sacrifice.
Let us pray:
Dear God, please look with mercy on our brave and selfless brothers and sisters, who did not shirk from their task but gave themselves completely to the cause of defending and protecting us all. Bless all who have given their lives for the sake of liberty, and grant them eternal rest with You. We remember also our brave men and women now serving in our Armed Forces, both at home and abroad. Dear God, send out Your angels to protect them all. Help them discharge their duties honorably and well. Please bring them safely home to their families and loved ones. Please bring Your peace and mercy to our troubled world. We ask this, Father, in the name of Jesus, Your Son, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Taps is often sung or played at the grave sites of our fallen heroes. Let us sit quietly as we hear this last respect shown those who have died to preserve our freedom.
Day is done,
gone the sun,
From the hills,
from the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
God is nigh.
Go to sleep,
May the soldier
On the land
or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night,
Must thou go,
When the day,
And the night
Need thee so?
All is well.
To their rest.
Fades the light;
And the stars
Fare thee well;
Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise,
For our days,
‘Neath the sun,
Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.
Delivered at In The Garden Community Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 25 May 2014