They used to call it Decoration Day because it first meant decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. Later it became Memorial Day in honor of the dead in all the nation’s wars. In our generation it is mostly about sales at Wal-Mart and a three day weekend.
I am a national holiday purist. I don’t like Monday holidays (for those too young to remember, it used to be that most national holidays had dates attached to them – February 12 for Lincoln’s birthday and February 22 for Washington’s birthday; May 30 for Memorial Day, July 4 for Independence Day and November 11 for Veterans day. The original legislation that invented the Monday holiday wanted to move Independence Day to the first Monday in July and Veterans Day to the second Monday in November. I still get cranky just thinking about it).
So Memorial Day – a day set aside to honor and remember those “who gave their last full measure of devotion” to their nation on the field of battle. It does not honor all who served (Veterans Day), it remembers those who fell.
If I were to “preach” Memorial Day (more on that below), my text would be Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Lincoln begins his remarks with a reference to the Declaration of Independence and its self-evidence truths: the equality of all persons (explicitly stated) and the endowment of certain unalienable rights (implicitly present). We would remind ourselves that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
At this point the preacher might get a little animated.
A recent Huffington Post blog points to a study that shows that 82% of Americans are unable to name any two of the rights articulated in the Declaration. Shame on us. Democracy is always so fragile.
No wonder we’ve been seduced by the sales at Wal-Mart. A Monday off just in time to buy some new lawn furniture.
So, remember Memorial Day at some point this weekend. Read the President’s remarks made at Gettysburg. Highly resolve that our nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.
Go to the parade. Wave a flag. Give thanks for the nation and for those who died defending it.
I’m happy to preach Memorial Day and honor the memories of fallen heroes from my virtual soap box.
But I don’t “preach” Memorial Day from the preaching desk, the pulpit in the chapel or the sanctuary. Oh, you’ll know it is Memorial Day from our prayers and as we sing “God of the Ages.” Faithfulness, however, demands that the preaching text be always from the Scriptures of the Old or New Testaments, the only rule given “to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God.” This week we will hear of a God whose grace is sufficient for our need.
See you this Sunday for worship – and Monday at the parade!