The last Monday in the month of May has been designated by Congress as Memorial Day. It is a day set aside to remember those throughout our nation’s history who paid the ultimate price in its defense. Including the Revolutionary War and continuing to the present, more than 1.3 million Americans have lost their lives in the wars our nation has fought. Compared to the losses suffered by other nations these numbers are small, but to the families and loved ones of those who perished, each life lost is a painful reminder of the cost of liberty.
The purpose of Memorial Day is for the living to remember and commemorate the sacrifice the dead made on their behalf. Sadly, there are many today who apparently have no idea of this purpose. For them this is just another opportunity for a three-day weekend, or a day off from work or school. Others mistakenly view this day as a time to honor all who have served in our nation’s armed forces. (Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, is the holiday for that purpose.) The root of the misconceptions about Memorial Day is that we have generally failed to instruct each generation of its intended purpose. Without proper instruction in this regard the observance of this day becomes distorted from its original intent and is thus profaned.
It is this point that has significance with respect to our faith as Christians. The idea of a memorial is not a recent invention. It has roots as far back as the call of Moses. In Ex. 3:15, as God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He told Moses His name. Then He said, “This is My memorial-name to all generations.” In other words, this was how the people of Israel were to remember Him and all that He would do for them. On another occasion God commanded Joshua to have Israel construct an altar of twelve stones taken from the Jordan river. In Josh. 4:7 God said that this altar would be a “memorial to the sons of Israel forever” to remind them that God had brought them safely across the Jordan river and into the promised land. These memorials were intended to keep Israel from forgetting what God had done for them.
Those who are under the covenant of Christ also have a divinely-commanded memorial. This memorial is the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Himself instituted it on the night of His betrayal (Mt. 26:26-30). The purpose of this memorial is for us to remember that the one and only Son of God sacrificed His life on the cross to pay the debt for our sins. As we break the bread and drink the cup each Lord’s Day we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26). We are remembering that He died to set us free from the bondage of sin.
Unfortunately, some have forgotten, or have chosen to ignore, the simple purpose of this memorial. The setting in which the Lord instituted this rite was a somber occasion because He would go to the cross within hours of the time He gave it to His apostles. However, some today seek to turn the Lord’s Supper into a celebration, instead of a memorial service, as it was intended. Some trivialize it by taking it on different days of the week, or at special occasions, like weddings or funerals. Others trivialize it by only observing it on special religious holidays, like Easter or Christmas, or by combining it with a common meal. All these actions profane the purpose of the Lord’s Supper.
Paul’s instructions to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:23-34) remind us that this is a solemn memorial that demands our utmost reverence. If we mourn soldiers who die in defense of our country, we should also shed a tear for our Lord whose death on the cross set us free from sin. We should do so even as we rejoice in the freedom we enjoy because of it.