Tomorrow is the official commemoration of Memorial Day. Many people see it as just a 3-day weekend. But for those who have lost someone because of war or military action, it means much more than a day off. In fact, every American ought to recognize this day to honor of those who spilled their blood to make America what she is today. We tend to forget that the liberties we have today came at the cost of people’s lives. And most people forget to remember these sacrifices.
Memorial Day was originally begun by former slaves on May, 1, 1865. The ceremony was held in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. Former slaves dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial. Then they held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 black children marching through the streets celebrating the sacrifice of these men.
The first official Memorial Day was celebrated a few years later. A group of women asked the War Department for permission to put flowers on the graves of soldiers buried at what is now Arlington National Cemetery. Permission was finally granted, but a stern order that ‘no flowers were to be placed on the graves of the Confederate soldiers.’ The confederates were buried in a segregated section of the cemetery.
The ladies carried out their task and carefully followed their instructions. A crowd gathered for the commemoration at which General Ulysses S. Grant gave a speech. But shortly after the ceremony concluded, they say a strong gust of wind blew through the cemetery… and the wind blew almost all the flowers into the Confederate section. After that the separation was never repeated. Many believed that the wind had sent by the hand of God.
Now, how many of you knew that about Memorial Day? How many of you knew that Memorial Day began as a way of honoring the dead from the Civil War?
Me neither! – until I began research for this homily.
Most people do not know that Memorial Day was begun after the Civil War, and don’t know that Memorial Day has since been set aside to honor the dead of all American wars since that date. It is marked by parades, speeches, flags and flowers placed on graves, and was originally called ‘Decoration Day’. As a child, my family used to gather to place flowers on graves and then have a picnic on the grounds of the cemetery (in some places, there are picnic benches and places to sit in the cemetery). We were taught that it was important to honor those who died, giving us the freedom we now have.
But, today, it’s like most of the nation has forgotten WHY Memorial Day was established. One person on Facebook joked that many think it is National Barbecue Day! People tend to be forgetful, especially when the impact of the current ‘wars’ are minimal. But we need to jog their memories to remember those who gave their lives for our safety!
A fallen hero can be defined as someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.
In John 15:3 we are told by Jesus
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
The people we remember on Memorial Day not only gave up their lives for their friends, but for people they didn’t even know, and even for those they didn’t even like. That is true sacrifice.
And because these men and women have died for this country,
- we have the right to worship as we wish
- we have the right to live at peace in our own homes
- we have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness as we wish
- we have the responsibility to seek peace in the world.
How many of you were in the military at some point in your life?
I am an Air Force brat, and I know that you share with me the grief of having lost friends in wars. Nothing can ever replace the feeling of loss and anger as we attend the funerals of our friends. I can’t image the feeling of loss on the battlefield, when the person next to you makes that ultimate sacrifice.
But, those who have fought and survived, as well as the rest of us, need to remember that war and killing are wrong! We were not put here on this earth to kill each other. In my humble opinion, World War II was the last ‘just war’. Every other conflict since then has been based on greed and personal gain for a few. It is time to stop these aggressions.
Instead, we are instructed again and again by Jesus to love one another,
Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44)
The one and only thing that Jesus kept teaching is LOVE!
Not hate, . . .
not greed, . . .
Saint Francis wrote a prayer that sums it up; take a quiet moment and listen to his words:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
So we must work for peace in our little corner of the world.
In closing, I want to tell you about the ‘Coin Tradition’.
When a living soldier visits the grave of a fallen hero, they leave a coin on the headstone. If they leave a penny, it means they visited the grave. If they leave a nickel, it means they trained with this person; a dime signifies that they served together. Leaving a quarter is the most significant tribute, not only to the living, but also for the families of the fallen. It means that they were there when that soldier was killed. This is why, when you visit cemeteries with soldier’s graves, there are always coins on them. Someone cared enough to visit and leave a small token of respect for others to see.
And because these fallen soldiers died for us, that we have a responsibility to remember them on this Memorial Day. Go to parades, barbecues, celebrations,
But remember our fallen heroes and sheroes.
Let us pray:
We give you thanks, O Lord, for all who have died that we may live, for all who endured pain that we might know joy, for all who made sacrifices that we might have plenty, for all who suffered imprisonment that we might know freedom. Turn our deep feeling now into determination, and our determination into deed, that as men and women died for peace, we may live for peace for the sake of the Prince of Peace, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Bruce Howell, SermonCentral.com
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 29 May 2016