The custom of placing flowers on graves of the war dead began in 1866 in Waterloo, New York, which has been recognized by Congress as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1968, General John A. Logan declared that May 30 would be a day to decorate with “flowers the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”
It was initially known as Decoration Day and each region, north and south had different days for remembering their war dead.
Following World War I, the day was set aside to honor the men and women who died in all American wars. Annually a wreath placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns located in Arlington National Cemetary, often by the President or Vice President. The day officially became “Memorial Day” by an act of Congress in 1967. In 1968, the last Monday in May was designated by Congress as the official Memorial Day holiday.
Why do we remember? Why is it important to remember what has been done for us?
Scripture is full of calls to remember. God said that he gave the rainbow as a reminder that he would never flood the earth again.
In the fourth book of Joshua, Moses is dead and Joshua has been called to lead the people into the Promised Land. But to do so, they must cross the Jordan River which is in flood stage. There is no way to cross. So, as he did with the Red Sea, God dams the river and the Israelites are allowed to cross on dry land.
So that they will not forget, God tells Joshua to have twelve men, one from each tribe, pick up a large stone as the cross the dry river bed. The stones are placed on the bank of the river as a memorial, a reminder of God’s deliverance.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus broke bread with his disciples and told them the wine and the bread were his body and blood. He told them in the future to take the wine and the bread to remember what he has done. The tradition remains in Christian churches with the celebration of communion.
And so, in like manner, because we recognize that our freedom has come through sacrifice, through the shedding of blood, we pause to remember on Memorial Day.
We recognize that because of this freedom we are free to assembly and worship as we see fit.
But on Memorial Day, we remember that this freedom came with a price.
Cross posted to Richmond Bible Examiner.