Memorial Day

Tomorrow, the United States has set aside an annual observance they call Memorial Day.  It is designed as a day to remember all those who died serving our nation.   While its exact origin is uncertain, we know that in 1868 it was proclaimed by General John Logan to remember soldiers of the civil war.  IN 1971, Congress officially recognized it as a national holiday to be observed the last Monday in May.  On this day, many take pause to remember those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom.  As Americans, this day is worthy of taking a few moments to be thankful for what we have.  Of course, not everyone appreciates the significance of this holiday, and sees it simply as a day to enjoy the company of friends and family.  Often times, as time moves on, the significance of such memorials fades unless someone takes the time to preserve its meaning.  

Of course, as a church, we make no special observance for national holidays because they are not found in scripture as part of her work.    Nevertheless, the Bible DOES indicate the significance of memorials.  So let’s take a few moments to notice some memorials recorded in scripture.

The idea of a memorial is to bring to remembrance something that is important with special observations or monuments.

In the Bible we read of many memorials.

In Genesis 9:12-17, after the flood, when Noah and his family left the ark, the Lord made a covenant with Noah (and his descendants) that He would never again destroy all flesh by flood.  The rainbow was the reminder or memorial to Him of this covenant.

When we read of Abraham we find him remembering God.  Wherever he went, the first thing he did was build an altar to the Lord.  Gen. 12:8 records that when Abram first arrived at Bethel he built an altar there.  After returning from Egypt, he returned to Bethel and “called upon the name of the Lord.” (Gen. 13:3-4).  That place was a memorial of God to him and it was special.  Later in Gen 28, we will find Jacob, Abraham’s grandson making a vow to God at a place he called Bethel (Gen 28:18-22).  Whether it was the same place or not, it was a memorial. 

In Egypt, as Israel was about to finally be delivered from the tyranny of Pharaoh,  the Lord through Moses announced the 10th and final plague.  To prepare for this, Israel was given specific instructions that, in short, would result in the Passover of the angel of death.   Concerning this Passover feast they were told to commemorate it every year.  Exodus 12:14 says, “So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD throughout your generations.  You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.”  This is followed by instructions as to how it was to be observed.    Further they were told that when they inherited the promised land that they would observe this feast.  Moses then said, “And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service/’ that you shall say, “’It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel…” (Ex. 12:26-27).  NOTICE how the observance on a yearly basis was a reminder of the Lord’s deliverance.  BUT it also afforded opportunity for their children to learn about God and what He had done for them.    As time went on, this memorial was neglected and the children forgot it and they forgot God.  Much of the Old Testament records this tragedy.  I cannot help but wonder what would have happened had the Israelites faithfully observed this memorial throughout their generations.

As the children of Israel prepare to enter Canaan under the direction of Joshua we find another memorial being established.  It is recorded in Joshua 4:1-7 says, “And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying: “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe,  and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’”   Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; 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.”  Notice, on this momentous occasion, the Lord wanted them to remember its significance.  Forever it was to serve as a reminder that their entrance into Canaan (the Promised Land) was by the hand of God.  Oh, if only they had remembered.  Sadly, it only took a little over one generation for them to forget (Joshua 2:10) and thus began the downward fall of Israel.

Now, we come to the New Testament.  First, let us notice a couple of passages that mention memorials.  IN Mark 14:3-9 we read of a woman (Mary – John 12:3), who just prior to Jesus entering Jerusalem for His final week, anointed His feet with a very costly oil and wiped it with her hair.  Some of His disciples were indignant because of the cost of the oils being “wasted” and it could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus told them to let her alone as she had done a good work and provided this anointing for His burial (He was trying to prepare them for His death).  Then Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” (Mark 14:9)  Imagine!  As we read the word of God, we notice this event and are reminded of her good work.  The record is a memorial and we consider her good in what she did.

In Acts 10:4 we read of righteous Cornelius, a Gentile centurion who was a devout man that was generous with the people and prayed to God always.  We know from the text that in spite of this he was not saved and in need of the gospel.  Cornelius and his household would be the first Gentile converts.  When he saw a vision he was told, “Your prayers and our alms have come up for a memorial before God.” God observed his works and “remembered” him.  There is a very real sense in which we know that God knows what we have done and our conduct, when it is good, is pleasing to Him (cf. Phil. 4:18, Eph. 5:2 – applies to Jesus)>

Finally, we must consider how we have a memorial that we partake of every week – the Lord’s Supper.  When Jesus instituted the Lord ’s Supper He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19).   A few years later, Paul noticed how this simple memorial had been corrupted and sought to refocus them on its significance.  He let them know that it was NOT a common meal (1 Cor. 11:17-22) and it was to be partaken of in a way that they would remember its purpose.  He then REMINDED them of its purpose and how it was to be partaken.   1 Cor. 11:23-26 says, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 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.” 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”  Notice how this memorial is designed to remind us of the tremendous sacrifice our Lord made for us when He died on the cross.  He died for our sins (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8, etc.).  His suffering was real (1 Pet. 3:18).  As we partake of the Lord’s Supper we MUST keep this in mind.  May we never partake of this too lightly.  And that is why, AS we participate in this memorial, we need to follow His directions.  It needs to be done HOW He instructed and when (Acts 20:7).

So we can see, memorials are a good thing.  But to be effective, we must remember what they are about.  From time to time it is good to remember our national heritage.  But even more importantly, let us remember our spiritual heritage by partaking of the memorial we have been given, and let us do so with full understanding and appreciation of what it means.  Think about it!