First commemorated following the Civil War, Memorial Day, which we will observe next Monday, is a time for Americans to honor those who gave their lives for our nation.
Sadly, like most holidays, Memorial Day has become increasingly commercialized. Once a somber day to honor the dead is now a time remembered primarily for blowout sales, weekend trips, and family cookouts. In the rush of the busy weekend, fewer and fewer people take the time to consider the meaning behind their day off work. In reality, fallen soldiers are the reason that we can have the day off work, that we can take the weekend trip in our free nation, and that we can buy the brats for our cookouts and the furniture in the blowout sales. Surely, before we light the bonfire, every one of us can take at minimum a few minutes to reflect upon the sacrifices that make our way of life possible and thank God for those who gave their all for us.
One simple but meaningful way to honor the military dead on Memorial Day is to attend your city’s Memorial Day parade or ceremony. This specifically designated time is ideal for reflection and remembrance. One of the greatest benefits of these ceremonies is their societal nature. They show that as a society we are immeasurably indebted to our fallen heroes. Our cultural way of life exists in large part because of their sacrifice.
These ceremonies are not only ideal because of their societal nature but also because of their familial nature. The parades and ceremonies are perfect for families. Children dressed in patriotic colors and waving American flags are common sights at these events. By attending Memorial Day ceremonies, children can begin to understand that American way of life is vastly different from the majority of other nations, and they can begin to be grateful for the sacrifices that were made for them. As children grow up with an awareness of what has been given on their behalf, they are more likely to develop a sense of responsibility and duty to their nation.
However, Memorial Day observance and reflection does not have to be public. We should also take time alone to remember. Think about your way of life and how others have made it possible. Take a moment to read Billy Rose’s poem “The Unknown Soldier,” or to hum the haunting notes of Taps.
A very meaningful and memorable family experience is to buy a couple dozen carnations and then go as a family to a local cemetery where you will find the graves of veterans marked for Memorial Day. Most of the markers will identify the war the individual fought in. Talk about how even though these folks didn’t die in battle, they still deserve honor for their service because any military service is in some way sacrificial. Let each family member put a carnation on the veterans’ graves of their choice.
And certainly take time to pray individually and as family. Thank the Lord for the privilege of living in America. Thank Him for those who died for you. And remember, just as the death of American soldiers gives us political freedom, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the greatest freedom, spiritual freedom. Hebrews 2:14-15 tell us, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
No matter the state of our political freedoms, through Jesus, we can have freedom from the fear of death knowing Heaven is secured. In dying, Jesus conquered death and set us free forever. Perhaps the greatest reason for Christian Americans to reflect on the deaths of American soldiers is that as we understand the depths of their sacrifice for us, we come to a deeper understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for us. As John 15:13 so poignantly says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” From a soldier or from our Lord, sacrificial death is the greatest expression of love.
Whatever you are doing this Memorial Day, take a moment. Pause. Reflect. Remember. Our freedoms cost the greatest price, and that is worthy of at least a moment of contemplation and reflection.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
(This commentary was written by Anna Morken, a summer 2023 intern for Wisconsin Family Council.)
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