We don’t know exactly when or where first American Memorial Day was celebrated. We know that it was originally called Decoration Day; we know that a the close of the Civil War that folk decorated the graves of dead soldiers; we know that the officially declared birthplace was Waterloo, NY. Whatever the case may be the practice of remembering those who have died in battle goes way back so it wouldn’t be surprising if separate people started celebrating it until it became generally accepted.
We’re to do certain things on Memorial Day. The American Flag should be raised to full staff in the morning, only for a moment, and then lowered to half-staff until noon when it is then raised to top staff again until sunset. As the American Flag flies at half-staff, any State Flags (that are on the pole or located nearby) shouldn’t be flying at all. In so doing, Americans officially recognize the sacrifice of departed soldiers, stand in solidarity for that loss, and then finally acknowledge the victory that said soldiers have secured. This isn’t a day to acknowledge Veterans—that’s Veteran’s Day—this is a day to bring to mind those soldiers who have died, originally in the Civil War but then expanding to include other wars as time went on.
This reminds me of our weekly memorial institutionalized by our Lord. We have certain practices when we remember him: we sit around the loaf and the cup, we’re to be united as a body, we’re to do it in remembrance of Christ and what He accomplished, we’re to do it often , we declare his death, and we’re to do it until he returns. It is not surprising. If soldiers died to secure our freedoms and are rightfully remembered then Christ, who secured the most important victory and freedom should be all the more remembered.
But there’s a surprise twist.
Christ lifts up the cup and says “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood”. He recalls for our mind the connection to the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31 where God promises to write his law on the hearts and minds of his people and where God promises that no one will have to teach their neighbor “Know the Lord” because all will know the Lord. By Christ’s death, that promise is inaugurated, and as we remember that death we look forward to that day with the foretaste of it now in the present.
But there was an important promise as part of that New Covenant, where God says that the sins of his people, he will remember no more.
Amazing irony. We call to mind what the Lord has done and he promises not to call-to-mind what we have done. Christ’s Memorial Day will never be the Memorial Day of our sins. Of course not. For he didn’t die to remain dead (living on in our collective memory, as it were), but he died so as to rise again victorious, with power, and engulf a people within Him—named with a new name, and their identity recreated.
So as we Americans celebrate Memorial Day and properly remember those soldiers who have fallen to secure our freedom, let us constantly remember Christ who died to secure our ultimate freedom and victory. Indeed, revel in that death and victory for in so doing he promises never to recall our sins again.