These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever. Joshua 4:7
So here we are at Memorial Day weekend, often thought of as the unofficial kickoff to summer. But Memorial Day itself, which falls on the last Monday of May, means much more than that, especially to those who have lost loved ones in service to our country.
Formerly known as Decoration Day (and originally set on May 30), the holiday generally is acknowledged to have begun after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died. It eventually became a day to honor the dead from every American war. (Not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, in November, which is for all who have served in the armed forces, living or dead.)
Memorial Day frequently is marked with barbeques, parades, and visits to the graves of fallen soldiers (and in stores, with heavily-advertised sales…).
Some of the most meaningful public observations occur within our national park system.
Maybe you didn’t realize this, but the National Park Service’s 401 units consist not only of grand landscapes (think Yellowstone or Yosemite), but also historic sites (such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace), as well as battlefields and the cemeteries attached to some of them. It’s in these latter places where Memorial Day perhaps is remembered best.
If you go to the park service’s website, and under the “Find a Park” tab, select “Topic” then “Battlefield/Military Park,” you’ll see how large a selection there is. Add “Civil War” to the search—since we’re in the midst of remembering its 150th anniversary—and you’ll find some especially poignant commemorations.
For example, Vicksburg National Military Park holds its official sesquicentennial commemoration of its battle on Memorial Day. Fort Donelson in Tennessee places luminaries atop each grave in the evening. In Georgia, Andersonville National Historic Site (the setting of the horrendous Confederate prisoner of war camp, and now home to the National POW Museum) displays its “Avenue of Flags,” a number of Stars and Stripes arrayed on both sides of the drive leading from the main entrance into the cemetery.
Memorials were big deals in biblical times.
Passover is one example. God decreed it to be “a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance” (Exodus 12:14). “When you enter the land that the Lord will give you as he promised,” Moses explained, “observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’” (vv. 25-27).
When Joshua later led the Israelites into the Promised Land by crossing over the Jordan River, God stopped up the waters so they could go across (Joshua 3). He then told Joshua to have twelve men from each tribe take up twelve stones from the Jordan and pile them up as a monument (Joshua 4). “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground’…He did this so that all the people of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God” (4:22, 24).
In the New Testament, Jesus said of Mary’s act of anointing him with perfume (Matthew 26:6-13), “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (v. 12). God called the gifts to the poor and regular prayers of Cornelius, a Roman centurion who was “devout and God-fearing” (Acts 10:1, 2), “a memorial offering” (v. 4).
Every Day a Memorial Day
Memorial Day is an occasion to honor what has been done for us by those who died fighting for our freedom, a very good thing to do. More importantly, though, every day we Christians should be marking what the Lord has done for us, not only for our own good, but also for our descendants. How else will they know unless we tell and show them?
What testimonies are you leaving behind as a memorial—journals, prayers, acts of kindness and service? What are some ways you memorialize what God has done for you and your family, so that future generations may look on and remember? Let us know here.
Penny Musco is a freelance writer with a terrific family—husband, daughter, mom, two brothers, and an assortment of in-laws, nieces and nephews. Her first passion is living for God as His child, redeemed from my “empty way of life…with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). A second is being with her family. Creating stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a third. And then there’s travel, especially to places where she can get up close and personal with the natural world. Trekking through the national parks is the best way she's found to combine all four. Penny blogs at Life Lessons From the National Parks. She can also be found at http://www.pennymusco.com and http://www.steal-away.com