The Memorial Day holiday was begun as a time to honor fallen Union soldiers in the aftermath of the Civil War. Over time it came to be a day to honor all the war dead from all the wars of our nation. From the first observance of this occasion in 1868, and continuing for about 100 years, this day was a solemn remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. In the last 40 years or so the original intent of this date has been lost on most people. We routinely hear media people speaking of Memorial Day as the official beginning of the summer vacation season, with hardly a mention of the true reason for this day. Families meet for food, and for fun and games, or they leave town for a quick get-away to any nearby recreational site.
Those who remember the real meaning of Memorial Day are saddened by the lack of respect for our war dead. We wonder how our nation could have strayed so far from the noble intent of this day of remembrance. The simple answer is also the most condemning to our society. It is that we have failed to tell the story of why we have such a day on our calendar. We have raised generations of Americans who know little of, and care even less for, the sacrifices made in past conflicts so they could live in freedom. It is a sad indictment on our nation.
This same neglect took place long ago in the nation of Israel with regard to the Passover. When God was about to bring Israel out of Egypt, He gave them instructions for a memorial to be held each year at a specified time so they would always remember what He had done for them. God warned Israel not to forget what He had done (Dt. 6:12), but many centuries later Israel had long forsaken this memorial. A young king named Josiah discovered the book of the Law, and when he read it, he tore his clothes in shame over this neglected memorial. He re-instituted the Passover and held a feast such as had not been seen since the time of the prophet Samuel (2 Chr. 35:18).
In the church we also have a solemn memorial, given to us by the Lord Himself. On the night of His betrayal, while He and the twelve were observing the Passover, the Lord took the unleavened bread of the Passover meal and one of the cups from the meal, and gave them to the twelve as a memorial meal to be eaten in remembrance of the sacrifice He was about to make for the sins of the world (Mt. 26:26-30). Writing about this some years later, Paul told the church in Corinth that whenever they ate this meal they proclaimed the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). In the early church the Lord’s Supper was the primary purpose for their gathering each Lord’s Day, even taking precedence over a visit from Paul the apostle (Acts 20:7).
Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-26), and the practice of the church in Troas (Acts 20:7), show us that the apostolic church observed the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week. It did so because this is the day the Lord came forth from the tomb (Mt. 28:1-7), and it is the day on which the church was established (Acts 2:38-47). Therefore, those who revere the sacrifice of Christ on the cross remember Him every Lord’s Day by doing as the first Christians did, eating the unleavened bread and drinking the cup of the new covenant in His blood, declaring His death until He comes again.
May we never be guilty of neglecting the memorial of this, the greatest of sacrifices. Let us tell and retell the story of the Lord’s sacrifice to every generation, and faithfully observe His memorial every Lord’s Day, lest we forget the great thing God has done for us.