“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Words of Jesus in John 15:12-14
This day in May has always been a special day for our family because it is my father’s birthday and because Memorial Day also frequently falls on May 31st. Each year this weekend involved participating in Memorial Day parades and services where my father, a decorated World War II veteran would often have a significant role. Then we celebrated his birthday with traditional family picnics, softball games, swimming, waterskiing and more on this weekend that also signifies the launch into summer. But, there was always a solemnity behind the festivity.
The holiday we now call Memorial Day began after the Civil War in 1868 and was originally known as “Decoration Day” serving as a remembrance of those who lost their lives during that war through the laying flowers and flags on the graves of the war dead. While the first official national declaration was in 1868, three weeks after the Confederate surrender on May 1, 1865, a parade of more than 1,000 recently freed from slaves, accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, gathered in the camp to consecrate a new, proper burial site for the dead. The group sang hymns, gave readings, and distributed flowers around the cemetery. In 1971 it became a federal holiday to remember all those who have lost their lives in all conflicts and wars defending the nation.
Memorial Day is not a defense of conflicts or wars whether perceived as just or unjust. Rather the day is an honoring and recognition that so many people have given their lives for their country whether families, friends or strangers. Such “laying down of one’s life” is the supreme act of love. Jesus said there is no greater act of love than that of laying down of one’s life for their friends. I think Jesus was indicating that his own death would be a sacrificial act of love for all who become his friends through faith. Nevertheless, the principle is true, love is made known through sacrificial living for our family, church and community and we particularly honor those whose love, honor, and duty has led to their death.
Today, may we pause to say thank you for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in their desire to keep us free. I remember my father lost so many friends in World War II, men and women who gave their lives for family, friends, and country. I remember too those who have given themselves in so many other ways in the quest for justice and freedom for all peoples. I remember the scriptures from Jesus to Paul that remind us of the greatness of love known in the way we treat and give ourselves to others. Remember, and give thanks this day!
We turn to You, God of the nations, in our grief and in our remembrance of the fallen. Guide us toward a harmonious existence as we honor those who were willing to give up their lives that we may freely gather here today. On this Memorial Day, we pray for peace and for those who gave their all. We pray in the name of the one who gave his life for us, Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.