Monday was Memorial Day. It is celebrated as a federal holiday every year on the last Monday in May. With the holiday fresh on my mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about its meaning. This day is to honor members of the armed services who died in battle or as a result of injury during service to their country. Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day, which is set aside to honor all those who served in the armed forces during times of both peace and war.
The history behind Memorial Day is Decoration Day, a time when Americans used flowers to decorate the graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared on May 5, 1868, that May 30 be the Day of Decoration. In the South, local observances to honor those who died in the Civil War took place in Columbus, Mississippi, as early as April 25, 1866.
After WWI, this day of honor was expanded to include all who died in American wars. In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law the National Moment of Remembrance Act. The act encourages Americans to pause for one minute of silence at 3:00 p.m. local time to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and protection.
I learned the significance of Memorial Day from my father.
He was a WWII veteran who served in the United States Marine Corps in the South Pacific. He also held a great degree of honor for soldiers who helped keep freedom in America secure by sacrificing their lives. Many of his fellow Marines died in battle. In fact, over 400,000 fellow American soldiers died in WWII.
I remember WWII pictures posted on the walls of his business, a Western Auto store in Ackerman, Mississippi. He had a picture of the USS Arizona Memorial that honored the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on board and all other soldiers who were killed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Another picture my father had in his store was the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial in reference to one of the most historic battles of WWII. This memorial is dedicated to “the Marine dead of all wars and their comrades of other services who fell fighting beside them.”
He also had photos of Winston Churchill, George Patton, and Ronald Reagan, among others.
But behind all the images he had displayed, I could tell there was a deep-seated sense of affection in his heart for fellow veterans and soldiers. My dad interacted with them in a way that was uncharacteristic in comparison to his interaction with others. Beyond his actions, I think there was an even deeper sense of gratitude – heart-felt propriety, so to speak.
I think my dad’s heart had been reoriented in such a way that he held a deep and abiding understanding of the cost that enabled him to not only survive the South Pacific campaign but also to return home. The cost of his return was denominated in the casualties of soldiers’ lives. Without these soldiers’ faithfulness to a vision to secure freedom from evil, even to the very end of their lives, he would have been lost at war and unable to come home.
Likewise, there is Someone who has already gone before us to secure freedom and make possible salvation.
In Romans 5:8, Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Freedom from sin required the sacrifice of God’s own Son. Christ is the great Savior; sin is the battlefield. God, in human form, defeated sin through the death and resurrection of Christ providing the way to salvation for all who believe.
Salvation comes through the gift of faith. Paul emphasizes this point in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Having faith in Christ begins with seeking the understanding that Christ’s death on the cross is the only sufficient means whereby salvation can be secured.
In the last stages of my dad’s life, I had several conversations about his faith in Christ. As he was going through severe dementia, he maintained confidence and faith in Christ. He knew he had been set free from sin, and he knew who secured his freedom. Within weeks of his death, one of the hospital counselors asked my dad who God is. Daddy said, “He is the absolute Sovereign.” My dad maintained to the end a deep and abiding faith in God.
Christian, we, too, are going home. The cost of going home required the life of our Savior. Let our hearts be oriented in such a way that the cost of our eternal freedom is ever before us and our devotion to God unwavering. May this be the decorum of our heart.