Originally scheduled for May 29
Memorial Day is an American holiday dating back to just after the
Civil War. It started out as a rather spontaneous memorial to those
who had died during the Civil War, a grassroots holiday rather than
one implemented by Congress or state legislature. It was originally
known as Decoration Day. Various changes in date and name continued
until 1971, when Congress formalized the last Monday in May as the
Why did our ancestors do this? One driving factor was the sheer
number of casualties in the Civil War. Over 650,000 men died in that
conflict. To put this in comparison, casualties for World War II
were less than half of that. When you consider that we had a much
smaller population then, you can see the impact this would have.
But that’s not all. The wounded were quite numerous also. Everyone
knew someone who had lost an arm or a leg in the war, a visible
reminder of the damage done. Veteran’s groups felt the need to honor
those friends they had lost during the war. It became customary on
this date to decorate the graves of those who were gone.
One of the reasons for such an emotional impact was that the Civil
War was largely a self-inflicted wound. The British Empire managed
to abolish slavery without armed conflict; in America, we saw no way
to solve the problem without war. We paid dearly for that failing.
If you go back to the origin of Decoration Day, or for that matter
read Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, you will find three recurring
themes which public speakers used consistently on Decoration Day.
First was a remembrance of the death and carnage of the war. Next,
was the theme of sacrifice. The North saw this as sacrifice for the
elimination of slavery; the South saw this as a sacrifice to defend
their homeland. Either way, the voluntary nature of risking death in
combat was recognized. Finally, the speaker would tell us that it
was necessary to move on to a rebirth of the American nation. Those
three themes — death, sacrifice and rebirth — form the commentary
for the day.
Communion uses these three themes as well.
In communion, we remember the death of our Lord on the cross. Not a
swift death but a very painful, slow death – and death on our
behalf. We are instructed to do this until he comes again. In
communion itself we partake of the body and blood of Christ, made
available to us by his death. He died that we might live.
We also remember the sacrifice of our Lord. He went willingly to the
cross to pay for our sins. In accordance with the Law of the Old
Testament, he served once and for all as the Passover Lamb for the
sins of the world. His death was not an accidental miscarriage of
justice; it was God sacrificing his son on our behalf.
Finally, we must speak of rebirth in communion. This refers not so
much to his resurrection as to his return. We celebrate until he
returns, which of course means that he will return and the world
will be renewed.
As you partake, do so with serious intent. You would not find
Memorial Day to be a trivial thing. Neither is communion, and for
much the same reasons. Examine yourself, therefore, and take in a