Tomorrow is Memorial Day. What does Memorial Day mean to you, other than a day off of work and a time to picnic and play? Do you understand what Memorial Day is? Do your children know what it is?
Memorial Day is a day of "National Mourning." All U.S. Flags should be displayed at half-staff during the morning hours. At noon, they should be raised back to full-staff.
It's a sacred day to all war veterans - none needs to be reminded of the reason why Memorial Day must be commemorated. But what about the general public, and more importantly, future generations? Do most non-veterans really recognize the importance of Memorial Day?
Celebrated in most states on the last Monday in May, Memorial Day is a time to remember the U.S. men and woman who lost their lives serving their country. Originally known as: "Decoration Day", it was established in 1868 to commemorate the dead from the Civil War. Over the years, it came to serve as a day to remember all U.S. men and women killed or missing in action in all wars.
The first official recognition of a Memorial Day was made by General John A. Logan, first commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. On May 5, 1868, he issued General Order No. 11 establishing May 30th as a day of honoring the dead. The order required all men throughout his command to spend some portion of the day policing the gravesites and decorating them, and observing such ceremonies as their duties allowed. It was hoped that it would spark a similar interest in the general population of this country.
Why Remember? Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance. America's collective consciousness demands that all citizens be aware of and recall on special occasions the deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime.
Far too often, the nation, as a whole, takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That's why they are all collectively remembered on one special day.
This should be regarded as a civic obligation. For this is a national debt that can only be truly repaid by individual Americans. By honoring the nation's war dead, we preserve their memory and thus their service and sacrifice.
Whether done individually or collectively, it is the thought that counts. Personal, as well as public, acts of remembering are the idea. Public displays of patriotism are essential if the notion of remembering war dead is to be instilled in the young.
As a society, we have memorials to help us remember things that we don't want to forget. There is a monument in Washington, D.C. in honor of persons in the American armed services who died in the Vietnam War. The memorial is a large black marble wall at the Washington mall. The names of the dead are inscribed in the wall. That wall was erected so we would not forget those who died in Vietnam.
So, in order not to forget those who have sacrificed their lives for this country, we annually celebrate Memorial Day. Because we are so prone to forget, we need things to help us remember. God has given us various memorials to help us remember things that we should not forget. One such memorial is the rainbow. After the flood, God made this covenant:
Genesis 9:8-17 (NKJV) Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: 9 "And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, 10 "and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. 11 "Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13 "I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. 14 "It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; 15 "and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 "The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 And God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth."
This covenant is cosmic and universal -every living creature, vv. 10 [twice], 12; all living creatures, vv. 15-16; all life, vv. 11, 15, 17) as is seen from the rainbow God gave as a sign (vv. 12-13, 17).
When it arches over the horizon after a rainfall, it is an all-embracing sign of God's faithfulness to His work of grace. Signs remind participants in a covenant to keep the stipulations. In the rainbow God, who is omniscient, perpetually reminds Himself (repeated in vv. 15-16) never to flood the whole world again (vv. 11, 15). The rainbow arcs like a battle bow hung against the clouds. The Hebrew word for rainbow, qesheth, is also the word for a battle bow. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, God referred to judgment storms by using terms for bows and arrows.
The bow is now "put away," hung in place by the clouds, suggesting that the "battle," the storm, is over. Thus the rainbow speaks of peace. In the ancient Near East, covenant treaties were made after wars as a step toward embarking on peace. Israel certainly would be strengthened to see in the skies again and again God's pledge that He keeps His promise of grace. But certainly, it also reminded the faithful in Israel that God judges sin.
The rainbow serves as a memorial to us of God's grace and faithfulness never again to destroy every living thing.
Genesis 8:21-22 (NKJV) And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma. Then the LORD said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man's sake, although the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. 22 "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease."
So, the rainbow serves to remind us of God's promise never again to destroy every living thing. Every time I see a rainbow in the sky, I am reminded of God's promise. The rainbow helps me to remember God's faithfulness.
We constantly need to be reminded of things because we are so prone to forget. Look with me at:
Numbers 15:37-41 (NKJV) Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 38 "Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. 39 "And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, 40 "and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. 41 "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God."
God understands the human need for tangible reminders. Wanting to be understood as the only God for Israel, the One who rescued them from Egypt, and the God who gave them a specific set of commands by which to live, He instructed the children to sew tassels on their clothes as constant reminders of all these interventions of God. Symbols can prod our memory and lead us to remember.
As Americans, we celebrate Memorial Day to remember those who have given their lives for this country. We want to remember their sacrifice that provided the freedom we enjoy. For those of us worshiping at Berean Bible Church, every Sunday is a Memorial Day. Each Sunday we remember the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on our behalf as we participate in the Lord's Supper.
The Lord's Supper is a memorial, a commemoration of our Lord Jesus Christ in giving of himself in death for us. Speaking of the Lord's Supper, Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me." A major goal of the Lord's Supper is to elicit remembrance of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord's Supper was instituted the day before the crucifixion, the night on which Jesus was betrayed. He was in the upper room with his disciples, and the Passover celebration had begun. The Lord's Supper was instituted in the midst of the celebration of the Passover. That is very appropriate because both of them are a memorial. Passover was a memorial of God's physical deliverance of his children from their bondage in Egypt through the blood of the lamb.
Exodus 13:3 (NKJV) And Moses said to the people: "Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out of this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten.
Passover was a memorial of God's physical deliverance. Each year the children of Israel celebrated the Passover to keep in memory what God had done.
The Lord's Supper is a memorial of the spiritual deliverance of God's people from their bondage to sin and death. That deliverance is through the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Both Passover and the Lord's Supper are memorials Passover anticipated the coming Lamb, the true Passover Lamb, who would shed His blood in order to make atonement for God's chosen people. Jesus was crucified during the Passover event. The New Testament identifies Christ with the Passover sacrifice:
1 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV) Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
What the Passover lamb was to Israel, Jesus Christ is to us. The death of the Passover lamb and the application of its blood to the door posts of the home, provided a covering whereby the inhabitants of that home were protected from the just judgment of God and entered into God's salvation. The application of the blood of Jesus Christ by faith to the life of an individual, institutes a deliverance from the just judgment of God upon that individual so that he is saved. Just as the Passover lamb died for Israel, Christ died for us: it was a substitutionary, vicarious death.
Two very significant things happened at the moment Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper. First, our Lord discarded the celebration of the Passover because all that the Passover had anticipated was fulfilled; the true Passover Lamb was about to die for the sin of the world. The Lord's Supper is a memorial of all that the Passover anticipated. Second, a change of dispensation, or economy, or covenant took place. The symbol of the Old Covenant was replaced by the symbol of the New Covenant. We are now living under the New Covenant and the symbol of the New Covenant is the Lord's Supper.
The Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of animals; the New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ. Jeremiah prophesied the coming of the New Covenant that contained the forgiveness of sins and the writing of God's law on the hearts of men and women. By the death of Jesus Christ, God would be propitiated and we would be forgiven and accepted by him. The bread, his body given, the cup, his blood shed, provided redemption to all who will by faith receive him.
1 Corinthians 11:24-25 (NKJV) and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
This memorial was certified by the Lord's words, "do this,"which is the Greek present tense: "this keep on doing." It is also an imperative in the Greek, which means it is a command. When you love the Lord, you'll want to remember Him often. My father died 22 years ago. I remember him often and in many ways, but I never look at a picture of him without remembering him. You and I can go through our lives remembering the Lord many ways and at many times, but you'll never observe the Lord's Supper without calling to mind the fact that he died for you. Remembrance of the person and work of Jesus Christ is the one major goal of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is a Memorial-- a structure or custom which serves to honor, or keep alive, a memory. It is a commemoration. We are prone to forget even the things that are very important to us, things that had a great impact on us. This is why God gives memorials throughout the scriptures.
Joshua 4:5-7 (NKJV) "and Joshua said to them: "Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever."
These stone were to be a memorial for the children of Israel. Imagine a day when Joshua is at Gilgal after a few years have gone by, and one of his sons asks him some important questions about life. I can hear him saying, "Hey, Dad, what are the stones all about? I see that the people keep coming back to Gilgal, I see them pointing out to the stones in the middle of the river, what do they mean?"
Joshua understood that the stones were there, not just for his own encouragement, but for the encouragement of his children, generation after generation after generation. He understood that they were the basis of a tradition which would be a cohesive force that would hold them together as a family faithful to God. He could tell them many personal stories, but they would all have in common a definite line of truth which ran through them all; that God is the God of the impossible. God takes impossible situations and brings victory out of them.
So I can hear Joshua saying to his son, "Son, I thought you would never ask, but let me tell you what the stones mean." And then he would launch into God's deliverance of the children of Israel. And I can hear Joshua saying to his son, "God told me to put the stones in the middle of the river because he knew you would ask. And my son, I want to pass on to you that God is able to deal with impossible situations. I want to encourage you, and I want to strengthen your faith in Almighty God."
Do we, twentieth century American Christians, need things to remind us of God's faithfulness and goodness? Is it possible that we could forget what God has done for us? If you are honest with yourself, you know how prone we are to forget the good things that God does for us. We see this same problem in the children of Israel.
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 "Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Was it possible that the children of Israel could forget the Lord after all they had been through? Think of the miracles that they saw as the Lord delivered them from Egypt. Then think about the forty years where the Lord fed them every day with manna and water in the desert. After all they had been through, was it possible for them to forget God? Yes!
This is why God had Joshua establish a memorial at Gilgal and in the Jordan to remind them of the mighty power of God in rolling back the waters of the Jordan and bringing them into the land of promise.
Joshua had seen God work in mighty ways in providing for him and he had a memorial to prove it, every time he grew weak in his life. Every time he needed to have some encouragement, every time he needed to know what was true, he could come back to Gilgal and sit down and review how God had worked in his life. And this was a cohesive force to spur him on, to give him hope that as God worked in the past, so he would work in the future.
So what about us? What are the memorial stones of the Christian? What do we have in the church, in the New Testament writings, which are things which can be passed on to us? We already discussed one -- the Lord's Supper. "Do this in remembrance of me," every time we participate we remind ourselves and our children what Christ paid on our behalf; and then also, not to live in despair, but to review with our children the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the fact that the very power which raised Christ from the dead lives in our hearts right now, that God brings life out of death to all who will trust in Him. We also have baptism to remind us that we have been raised out of spiritual death into life in the presence of God.
Let me briefly mention the powerfully important place of sacred memory and the absolute imperative that we teach our children about how God has worked in our lives. There are so many things that should trigger our memories of God's activity in our lives: places that we've been, people who have been influential in our lives, experiences, mementos that we treasure and hold onto because of what they signify to us--including the Bible itself. I hope you treasure your Bible. I hope it has great memories for you. After certain truth exploded into your awareness and you made a note, you can go back to that and thank God for revealing himself at that place and that time through the word.
I think we all should have personal memorials that remind us of God's goodness in our lives. What are the memorial stones in your life, things which remind you of God's love and grace in your life, things that can encourage us in time of trial and discouragement?
This is not a tangible memorial but it is a memory that serves to remind me of God's work in my life. I remember, just as if it was yesterday, an incident that happened 24 years ago. It was a time in my life when I was becoming aware of spiritual things. Cathy and I were walking through the Millcreek Mall in Erie Pennsylvania. I got angry at her for something and I asked God to damn her. What I did was to take the name of the Lord in vain. When I did that, it grieved me greatly. I remember the pain and shock I felt when I took God's name in vain. This was just the beginning of God working in my life.
In times of doubt or questioning the truth of Christianity or the Bible, I remember back to the transformation that took place in my life through the grace of God. That memory is a memorial of God's saving power in my life. Christianity is not some intellectual pursuit or a social club, God changed me! I am a born again child of the living God.
I have on my mantle a piece of the tail of the plane we crashed in to remind me of God's grace that night. In times of difficulty, I look at that memorial and remember God's power to deliver in any circumstance. I challenge you to spend some time thinking through the memorial stones in your life. What are the impossible situations in your life where God worked?
We are all prone to forget God's goodness and provision in our lives and so we all need memorials to remind us. A sad verse in Jeremiah reminds us how forgetful we really are:
Jeremiah 2:32 (NKJV) "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, Or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number."
Can you imagine a bride forgetting her wedding dress? But Judah had forgotten her God who had adorned her and set her apart from the other nations of the world. And she had done this for days without number.
Lest we forget, the Lord's Supper is a weekly memorial that will remind us of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our weekly observance of the Lord's Supper will make Jesus Christ the center of our corporate worship. This memorial is not morbid; we are not having a funeral service. We are remembering a triumph. It's not a time for morbid melancholy retrospection. It's rather a time for rejoicing and thanksgiving for God's love and sacrificial death on our behalf. It's a joyous memorial in remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said to do this in remembrance of Him. It's a personal remembrance. We are to focus our thoughts upon the person of Jesus Christ. It's more than simply a commemorative; it's also a confession. When you partake of the bread and juice, you are saying, "His death was for me. I am trusting Him for my eternal salvation."
Tomorrow is Memorial Day, let's remember those who died to purchase the freedom we enjoy in this country. And, as Christians, let's view each and every Sunday as Memorial Day to remember the Lord Jesus Christ who died to pay our sin debt that we may have eternal life.