In the United States, the Memorial Day holiday has come to indicate the official beginning of the summer vacation season. Many spend the day focused on cookouts, pool openings, and a day off from work. However, its origins are more somber. After the American Civil War, citizens put aside a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers--to memorialize them. Eventually, this became a nationally recognized event. Yet through the years, the day has lost its original significance of remembering veterans. Grilling has taken priority over gratitude. It’s meaning has been forgotten along with the soldiers who served their country.
Scripture also speaks of memorial days and ways to remember times of significance.
Passover was set up to remind the children of Israel of God's protection, love, and mercy upon them when He inflicted plagues on the Egyptians because of Pharaoh's harsh treatment of them.
Exodus 12:14 (ESV) “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.
We often forget what God has done, and so did God's chosen people. When we read about these desert wanderers, we often think, "How could they be so untrusting and ungrateful?!" Without the full context of story, without the days and weeks in between, passing judgment on them is easy. But gratitude in the midst of deliverance is never easy. There may be rare days of obvious miracles, when God parts the Red Sea, but then there are the days when we wonder at God's plan because provision seems scarce and trust and faith come hard.
God's cure for this includes times and rituals of remembrance, including festivals, like Passover to commemorate God's deliverance.
God uses visual aids to remind His people of His constant provision, like the manna kept in the Ark of the Covenant. It is God reminding His people that He has made a covenant with them or provision for them.
Exodus 16:32 (ESV) Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ”
In the New Testament, this process continues when we are given the Eucharist to remember the blood and body of Christ, His new covenant with us.
Luke 22:19–20 (ESV) And he took 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 likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Remembering past victories helps us to have the courage to face our current challenges. David remembered that the Lord had long been with him when negotiating with Saul to face Goliath.
1 Samuel 17:36–37 (ESV) Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
Jacob set up a memorial upon his flight to Laban's house. He made a deal with God, whom he recognizes as the God of his father and ancestors.
Genesis 28:20–22 (ESV) Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
Even though the future was difficult for Jacob, God did keep His end of the bargain. Jacob eventually returned to the pillar and God instructed him to build a new altar because now Jacob, who had wrestled with God, had now experienced God for himself.
What does this look like in the 21st Century? Rather than simply remembering fallen veterans this Memorial Day, I propose an even deeper symbolic day; a day when we remember our true Hero, the One who has fallen for us so that we might live in His Kingdom.
Make Memorial Day a Passover of sorts, a day when we remember the goodness of God in our family's lives.
Ann Voskamp wrote in her book, One Thousand Gifts, that, "Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle." Sometimes the miracle is grand and supernatural, but sometimes the miracle is simply a heart changed from stone to flesh, from ingratitude to gratitude. And really what greater miracle is needed than that?
Enjoy grilling this summer season, but don't forget to season your life with gratitude!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra