Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Memorial Day, May 26, 2019
Christians all over the world worship Jesus Christ on Sunday. Sunday is observed as a day of worship and rest to commemorate the day of Christ's resurrection. Most of the Lutheran churches celebrate communion every Sunday. Sunday becomes a memorial day where Christians remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to save us and remember his resurrection. Tomorrow Monday is called Memorial Day. It is designated for remembering and honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.
The two celebrations, one specifically Christian and one national, may seem to have little relationship with each other. However, “they are united by the common principle of calling for us to participate with the heroic sacrifices of old, renewed today.”
Celebrating the Holy Communion invites us to remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the past and his presence with us today. Jesus in the Last Supper commands us to "do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:23–25). The Holy Communion is a visible sign of Jesus’ presence in his church. The martyrs and saints are also present with Jesus as we celebrate the Holy Communion.
On Memorial Day, we celebrate and remember who laid down their lives to protect the citizens of the United States and the oppressed in the world. Their memory reminds us of our past and helps us to think of our future. Memorial Day is not about a recounting of the past, but in remembering the sacrifice of our dead soldiers, we make them present.
Jesus’ blood and body remind us of his love and of his new commandment to love one another. Remembering his death and resurrection becomes a way of loving our neighbors and proclaiming that the grave is empty. On Sunday, we remember Jesus victory over death. We remember that sin has no longer power over us. Likewise, we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers and their love for the nation and for us. For the dead were witnesses: witnesses to the violent repression caused by war. Their death invites us to review our understanding of war and our involvement in Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Their sacrifice invites us to reflect on our participation in war and working for peace now and the coming future. Their sacrifice gives us hope that the future would be better.
Memorial Day is not the same as Veteran’s Day or a day for supporting our troops. It is a day to remember all those men and women who gave up their lives, so we may live. We remember those who “didn't get the chance to bring up their children or grow old with their spouses or have careers. All they have is their names on the Wall or another memorial like it.” Tomorrow is a day of mourning and self-reflection. Memorial Day should not be treated as an extra day off or a day of kicking off summer activities. It “means something much more profound than a long weekend” or a picnic or shopping. Memorial Day, wrote A historian Conrad Cherry, “is an American sacred ceremony, a religious ritual, a modern cult of the dead… it is a high holy day of the American ceremonial calendar . . . a sacred day when the war dead are mourned, the spirit of redemptive sacrifice is extolled and pledges to American ideals are renewed.” In other words, “Memorial Day is a festival of our nation’s civil religion, one of the many “constellations of rituals, ceremonies.” Therefore, my friends, “Christians should first embrace it as a reminder of our commemorative calling and treat it with respect and honor.”
We live in an era where forgetfulness is tempting. We are tempted to focus on the present time and the future. But if we forget the lessons of our past, it will be difficult to direct our future in a much more thoughtful way. Learning from the past to help us to make sense of our present and future is a dominant theme in Scripture. In the New Testament, we are called to remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In the Old Testament, the Lord commands the Israelites to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live” (Deut. 4:9).
Memorial Day might teach a measured love of country that neither displaces the love of God nor distorts love of (all our) neighbors. Every Holy Communion celebration is a memorial. Partaking in the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation unites us with Christ and makes us in communion with the saints and martyrs. We are united with Jesus Christ and saints in resisting sin and death. Similarly, when we remember the sacrifice of our dead soldiers “we sense a call to be united with them in their struggles now and always.” we are united with them in making this world a better place to live.
May their memory be eternal!