Memorial Day Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Memorial Day

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The annual Memorial Day holiday honors the heroism and sacrifice of all Americans who have died in military service to the country.

In Scripture

Memorials in Scripture

"Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; . . . the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. . . . This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Ex. 12:5 - 13).

"Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it" (Ex. 20:8, 11).

"Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. Joshua said to them, `Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, "What do those stones mean to you?" then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever'" (Josh. 4:4 - 7).

"Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, `Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.' Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, `This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, `This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood'" (Luke 22:17 - 20).

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3 - 4).

"I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, `This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, `This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:23 - 26).

Points to Ponder

The heart of a memorial is a sequence of steps Scripture is full of memorials — from feasts to stone monuments to special days such as Sabbath to sacraments such as baptism and the Lord's Supper. The heart of a memorial is a sequence of steps: (1) You call attention to an event that is formative for God's people. (2) You celebrate this event and thank God for it. (3) You bring the event forward into the present by ritually re-enacting it or some part of it. (4) You identify participants in the memorial celebration as the people formed by this event and by all that it means. (5) You petition the same God who did saving work through the event to keep on doing his saving work.

So, for example, with the Lord's Supper, you call attention to Jesus's death and resurrection. You thank God for Jesus's saving death and resurrection. You reenact Jesus's death and resurrection by breaking bread and spilling wine, and then you feast on Jesus's broken body and spilled blood. You identify the participants as friends of Jesus, as people formed by the events of Jesus. Those are our events because we are the people formed by them. You pray that God will keep on saving his people.

Secular memorials contain many of the same elements. On the Fourth of July Americans call attention to the War for Independence. They give thanks for American freedoms. They march around in old uniforms and fire off muskets and cannons. They claim to be free because of the events of 1776. Those are our events, they say, because we are the people formed by them. They express a hope or prayer that they will always be free Americans.

Memorial Day in the United States blends the themes of sacrifice and thanksgiving. The nation calls attention to all who have died in the military service of their country — those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. In speeches and proclamations the country gives thanks for its heroes and points out how their sacrifice has preserved us as a free nation.

Flags, flowers, and parades In national cemeteries, flags and flowers are laid at graves to show respect and to offer thanks. In lots of places Memorial Day is a parade day. Bands march and play. People in uniform and in military vehicles move by. Flags wave. People wave. Dads hoist kids onto shoulders. It's a time for old-fashioned, unashamed patriotism.

It doesn't matter in the least whether the war our soldiers died in was righteous. They were called. They served. They died. We honor them. Our opinion of the righteousness of the war they died in is, on Memorial Day, entirely irrelevant.

Other nations, of course, have their own holidays to honor those who died in uniform. In the United Kingdom it's Remembrance Day to honor those who fell in World War I. In the Netherlands, there are memorial displays at a number of national cemeteries, particularly near places where key battles of World War II were fought.

The preacher's calling on Memorial Day Sunday may be to place Memorial Day inside a more general understanding of memorials in Scripture. The idea is that as Christians we naturally understand how it is with memorials. Our worship on Sunday instead of Saturday is a memorial celebration of Jesus's resurrection. Our baptisms and Lord's Suppers are regular memorial celebrations. We know about memorials. So on Memorial Day Sunday we pay our respects along with the rest of the nation. As Americans we respect the sacrifice of those who have fallen. But our identity as Americans is secondary to our identity as Christians. For founding events and sacrifices within our country and within our faith, we show respect as Americans, but reverence as Christians.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.