Today is Memorial Day in the United States. While many people think it is just the beginning of the summer recreational season, it is much more than that. Memorial Day is of extreme patriotic significance, and the concept has biblical origins.
The Memorial Day tradition in this country began after the Civil War when people placed memorials and held services for the 20,000 soldiers killed in the war. It was originally held on May 30 and called “Decoration Day.” In 1967 Congress changed the official name to Memorial Day, and in 1971 changed it to the last Monday in May. Those of us who served in the military are always amazed to find how many people have already forgotten the wars that we were forced to participate in to preserve freedom. American ignorance of the 38th parallel, Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam, etc. is depressing. We too quickly forget the sacrifice people made to keep us free.
In the Christian faith, there is great emphasis on memorial activities. The communion service is a memorial. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). REMEMBRANCE is the first of three things we see in the biblical instruction about the communion service, and our country’s Memorial Day carries the same ideal. It is essential for us to remember what Jesus did for us both in terms of how we live and our eternal existence with God.
The second purpose of communion and which should e applied to Memorial Day in America is PROCLAMATION. In 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, “We proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.” The Christian communion is not just communing with God, but it is also a proclamation to each other and to the world that our spiritual identity is with Jesus Christ. We proclaim vertically to God and horizontally to each other.
The third purpose the Bible gives us for communion is SELF EXAMINATION. First Corinthians 11:28 tells us to examine ourselves. We need to do that regularly. Am I growing? Am I stronger? Am I learning? Throughout the Bible, we see God calling people to memorials. In Exodus 12:13-14 and 13:9-10, God tells ancient Israel to engage in a memorial of all they have been through and how God has blessed them.
God has always called us to pay attention to what has happened in the past. It is important for all of us to spend some time remembering how we got where we are. In the United States, we pause on the last Monday in May for Memorial Day remembering the sacrifices that others have made so that we can be free.
The celebration of this day began right after the American Civil War when people realized the carnage and sacrifice that had taken place. In the past, we put great emphasis on remembering the blessings that loved ones gave us by their sacrifice in wars with foreign powers. We visit graves and decorate them to emphasize that remembrance. In recent years, our secular society has drifted away from that emphasis. There has been a reduction in parades and services and an increase in recreational events. Instead of a time for remembering, Memorial Day has become a commercial promotion of the beginning of the summer season.
In the Old Testament, a great many holidays, feasts, and celebrations called ancient Israel to remember their blessings. As the New Testament came into existence, there was a whole new system of emphasis on remembering. God’s relationship was no longer with one nation and one system of living. Jesus called all nations to unity and oneness. Paul stated it this way: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
The importance of remembering the basis of our freedom and our oneness was not lost when Jesus established the Lord’s Supper recorded in Matthew 26:26-29. The purpose was to establish a continuing memorial. Paul described it in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29. He quoted Jesus as saying, “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
We get emails rather regularly from people denigrating worship. Some come from people who attend a church but “don’t get anything from going.” Others are from skeptics and atheists who describe worship as “a supreme waste of time and energy.” Both of these responses are at least in part due to a failure to understand what worship is and its purpose. The biblical concept of worship is not having an entertaining service by a skilled performer. James tells us in James 1:27 “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep himself unspotted by the world.” The purpose of worship is to help us do that and to be strengthened by our time together so that we can serve.
The Church we read about in the Bible did several things as acts of worship to equip themselves to do God’s will. Our problem seems to be that we don’t always understand how that happens. We are told to pray (Philippians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:1; Colossians 4:2; Ephesians 6:18). Our prayers are not to inform God or to build up His ego. Prayer is vital for us to learn to focus on something beyond ourselves and to be able to petition God to help us have the strength to do what He calls us to do. We are also told that giving is an act of worship (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 20:35; 2 Corinthians 9:7). The giving is obviously not because God, the creator of all things, needs our money. Learning to give cheerfully is a grace that helps us learn how to get the most out of life in relationships and our attitudes. The best of love, sex, work, learning, and security comes when we learn how to give. Singing is another part of worship to help us get the best out of our relationships with each other and God. Singing is not to entertain ourselves or God but to express our joy, unity, and fellowship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Romans 15:9; and 1 Corinthians 14:15). Our personal connection to God and to one another as we struggle with the problems of life is supported by our communion service, remembering the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-28).