Most of us are looking forward to the upcoming long holiday weekend observing Memorial Day. It is a sobering fact that many people do not celebrate this holiday as it was originally intended. Memorial Day was instituted as a federal holiday in the United States to remember the men and women who died while serving in our country’s armed forces. It originated after the Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers, but by the 20th century, the honor was extended in memory of all Americans who have died while in military service.
Today I want to think about how we can best fulfill the original intent of Memorial Day , but before I do that I want to share some scriptural background for creating memorials. In Joshua 4, we find the story of Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the
Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants
ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed
the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan
before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the
Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before
us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the
earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you
might always fear the Lord your God.”
After 40 years in the wilderness, Joshua wanted to be sure future generations would remember the faithfulness of God in leading His people out of slavery and into freedom. As the Israelites crossed the Jordan River on dry ground, Joshua had one man from each of the 12 tribes carry on his shoulders a stone from the dry riverbed to the other side. With these 12 stones, they erected a memorial. The purpose of this memorial was to be a thankful reminder to the people of what God had done as well as it to be a structure future children would ask about. It would provide the opportunity for adults to share their story of deliverance with generations yet to come.
When I apply the scriptural account of Joshua building a memorial in the Promised Land to our remembering those who have given their lives for our country, I think about national monuments that have been built in Washington D.C. Right now I want to focus primarily upon the memorials erected in honor of veterans of World War II and the Vietnam War. I want to emphasize these two memorials because there are people still alive who served in these two wars. Visiting these memorials has brought healing to many men and women of our country. However, as we celebrate Memorial Day this year I suggest that we do more than just look at monuments we have built in honor of these military heroes. My Reader, do you know a veteran from either of these wars who you could visit on Memorial Day? Ask them to share with you some of their experiences. I realize soldiers often prefer to forget what they have encountered and I want to respect that but I also want them to know that we still care about what they did for our country. I want them to know their sacrifices are still appreciated.
The stories of soldiers that we may be privileged to hear are part of our nation’s history. Textbooks and news articles record one aspect of history but personal perspectives give us insights beyond the facts. Stories help historical facts come alive. Although I do not know the original source of the following phrase, I like its message. “Our story is HIStory.” Whether it be the story of Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land or the individual story of each United States veteran, there is a tale to be told. Each story is a page of history and each story has the potential of being HIStory when God is given His place of honor within the story.
My Reader, I encourage you to make Memorial Day 2015 a day of honoring both the living and the dead. If you know of fallen heroes within your family, please honor them with flowers and flags on their graves. If you have friends and family who have previously served in the armed forces or are currently serving in our military, take time to thank them for their services and listen to their stories. Following the example of the Israelites who erected the stone memorial, may we remember that we are a nation under God. May we also follow Joshua’s example by honoring past generations and sharing their stories with future generations. There has been and continues to be a high price paid by our citizens in order for the United States of America to remain a free nation that honors God.
Another thought: I have focused upon the members of our armed forces today. However, I also encourage you to take time on Memorial Day to share with your children stories about the history of your family ancestors whom they may not have had the privilege of knowing. I also encourage you to make HIStory part of your family story that will be part of your genealogy.