It was once called “Decoration Day,” after the practice of decorating graves with wreaths and flowers. Originally, it was established as a day to remember those killed in the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history.
Today, Memorial Day encompasses all who died while fighting in the US armed forces throughout our country’s history. Around the country, people will gather to remember those who, in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, gave “the last full measure of their devotion” for the country they loved. For all, it will be an occasion for patriotism and pride. But for those mourning the loss in war of a close relative or loved one, that pride will be mingled with a deep and painful sense of personal loss.
This sort of public observances is valuable because it instills in us a sense of gratitude for our soldiers. It is so easy for us to forget that our lives are not wholly our own – they are built upon a foundation of God’s goodness and grace, and the blood, toil, and sacrifice of others. Memorial Day gives us the opportunity to remember that fact.
Like other holidays, over the years Memorial Day seems to have lost some of its original meaning. For many it’s simply a leisurely long weekend, a time to gather with friends and loved ones, to enjoy spring in its fullness, and to look forward to the pleasures of summer. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of lighthearted pleasure.
But, this weekend, let us do more than just enjoy our leisure time. Let us take a moment to remember the soldiers who died defending the freedoms we all too often take for granted. Let us pray for the dear ones they left behind, for those still living who served in the armed forces, and for the safety of those men and women who, even now, are standing at the front lines of the war on terror in dangerous corners of the world.