For many of us, holidays like Memorial Day are little more than sanctioned excuses to get a little rest or perhaps spend some time with family – and those are wonderful things. But I am reminded (pun intended) that the Biblical writers had something else in mind when they discussed memorials.
In Deuteronomy 5-6, for example, Moses presents to Israel a reminder of all that God had done for Israel and all that He had commanded. The reason is given in 6:2, “so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.” God had made a covenant with Israel (the Mosaic Covenant, or the Law), that if Israel obeyed God’s law faithfully, He would allow them to be blessed in the land He gave to them. Those were the basic conditions of the covenant. The book of Deuteronomy records the second giving of the Law – a reminder for the new generation of Israelites who would be entering the Promised Land after the forty years in the wilderness. In this case the reminder was, for Israel, a call to obedience.
Even though we today are not in this covenant relationship (since the Mosaic Covenant was made only with Israel [Ex 19:3]), it serves as a reminder to us of God’s character: He is holy, and has the highest standards (Deut 7:6, 14:2, 23:14, 32:51). He judges with impartiality (Deut 1:17). He is gracious and merciful (Deut 13:17). The Law was never intended to provide righteousness or salvation (Rom 8:3; Heb 7:11, 10:1). Instead, it was designed to provide an example and reminder for all of how we must come to God – by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:24).
While certainly not on par with Biblical reminders (either in authority or depth), contemporary holidays can be very valuable – and not just for rest and time with family. Memorial Day, for example, was inaugurated to commemorate those who died in military service to their country. It is a bittersweet day, as we rejoice in the gracious freedoms God has granted us through the ultimate sacrifice of so many, all while considering the awful price that was paid. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:3). And this memorial, like any other reminder, is not without its own action points.
In the closing moments of Saving Private Ryan (spoiler alert: read no further if you haven’t seen the movie), with his dying breath, U.S Army Ranger Captain, John H. Miller implores Private James Francis Ryan to “Earn this!” Many men died so that Ryan could live. In the film, Ryan later seemed haunted by those words, as none could ever truly earn such a precious gift. Similarly, we could never earn the most precious gift of life given by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), nor could we ever earn the precious gift of freedom bought with the lives of many. How can we respond when given such priceless gifts?
Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:20 to be “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father…” Do we continually express our gratitude to Him for who He is and all that He has done for us? If not, we need to change our habits. Further, Paul exemplifies how to give thanks to God, all the while “praying always for you” (Col 1:3). Specifically, in this context he prays that believers (in Colossae) will grow in their understanding, in order to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col 1:10). Do we pray for others that way – for their spiritual growth and walk? Do we pray, for example, for the families of those left behind who have made supreme sacrifices on our behalf? Finally, Paul reminds us to do more in addition to prayer: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:9-10). This Memorial Day, let’s make the most of the opportunity – with thankfulness, and with prayer, let’s do some good.
I thank the Lord for His great gift to us, and I thank those who have suffered and died so that you and I can have the freedoms we enjoy. I pray for the families who are left behind, and express deepest gratitude to them: Thank you, and thank you again. I could never earn what God has given me through you, and I am deeply saddened by the price you paid. But so help me God, I will use wisely that time afforded me in part by your loved one’s – and your own sacrifice. May God bless you this day, and every day to come. May you know the richness of His comfort, His love, and His mercy, “so that you may not grieve as those who have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13).
May you have a blessed Memorial Day. Let’s use it well.