A Day to Honor, Remember, & Look Forward
Memorial Day 2021: A Day to Honor, Remember, & Look Forward
by Dale Reeves
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed in the years following the Civil War. This war, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of our nation’s first national cemeteries. Waterloo, New York, is considered the official birthplace of Memorial Day. This town first celebrated the day on May 5, 1866, when local businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags. A few years later, General John Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30, 1868. On this first national Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
Many northern states held similar commemorative events and by 1890 each one had made Decoration Day an official state holiday. Southern states, on the other hand, continued to honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. It wasn’t until 1968 that Congress established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. And so, we set aside this last Monday in May to honor the men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military.
Free to Celebrate
Unofficially, Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season as people gather together to watch a parade, picnic, barbecue, jump in the swimming pool, or hit the road for an early summer vacation. Just a year ago, Memorial Day felt very uncertain for us as no one knew what the future looked like in terms of family get-togethers, vacations, and travel. We weren’t attending baseball games or going to public swimming pools in 2020. We weren’t meeting in person in our church building yet. We were still tracking the numbers of coronavirus cases in our state and country, and trying to make sense of it all. We weren’t sure what school was going to look like in the fall of 2020, and heading into 2021.
This year, we can thank God that we are able to get together with friends and loved ones, remembering all of God’s blessings, and thanking him more for people than things. We can thank him that he was with us every step of the way last year, even though we may have faced many challenges, and some of us lost family members. This year, more than ever, I would encourage us all to pause on this day and give thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy.
- Give thanks to God that he has made a way for you to be rescued from the darkness and sin that so wants to drag you down.
“Giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:12, 13, NLT).
- Give thanks to God for the freedom and privilege we enjoy in gathering with his body, the church, either through online groups, Bible studies, and worship experiences—or through physical face-to-face meetings.
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24, 25, NLT).
- Give thanks to God for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in laying down their lives for the cause of freedom so that we could still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Proverbs 10:7, ESV).
Free to Pray
On this Memorial Day, even as we look back at the past and give honor to whom honor is due, will you look to the future and will you pray these prayers with me:
- That God will reveal his truth to those honestly seeking him, and that people we know and love will not be taken captive by the empty philosophies of this world.
- That families will get back to what they’re called to be—the growing, nurturing, stabilizing influence in our society.
- That God will bring about a great spiritual awakening in our nation and in our world.
- That God will show you personally what your part is to help accomplish the prayers you just prayed.
And will you join me in this prayer written by Road to Emmaus Ministries for the men and women who are currently serving our country in the armed forces:
“Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be. Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands. Protect them as they protect us. Bless them and their families for the selfless acts they perform for us in our time of need. In the powerful name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, Amen.”