The Greatest Sacrifice

John 15:12-17

May 27 2018

Memorial Day Observance

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Memorial Day used to always be celebrated on May 30, but in 1971 Congress changed it to the last Monday in May to create a long holiday weekend.  For many people Memorial Day has become simply a kick off to the summer season of barbecues, picnics and outdoor activities. Sadly, many people have forgotten the actual reason Memorial Day became a holiday in the first place. Our national observance of Memorial Day dates back to 1868, when General John A. Logan named May 30th as a special day to honor the graves of soldiers. There is debate as to the location and date of the first observance of a Memorial Day in the United States. Some claim the custom of honoring war dead began in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Others claim the custom was originated by some Southern women who placed flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers after the Civil War. One writer states the first Memorial Day service took place on May 30, 1866, on Belle Isle, a burial ground for Union soldiers in the St. James River, at Richmond, Virginia. The Federal Government eventually got into the debate and in 1966 it was proclaimed that the birthplace of Memorial Day was Waterloo, New York. So, while the exact first celebration of Memorial Day is not clear, it is clear the observance of Memorial Day was started in this country in remembrance of those who died in the Civil War. Since that time, those who have sacrificed their lives in the service of our country in any war have been added. 

I mention this because it is up to us to teach the next generation the meaning of the day. They need to learn our history and the sacrifices that have been made for the freedoms they enjoy.  The future of any nation demands that its citizens have a sense of history and their place in it. In my own case, it is part of my family heritage to honor the many that have served in the armed forces. My father served in World War  II, flying a B24 bomber  out of Southern Italy.  He raised my sisters and I to honor those who served our country and fought for the freedoms we enjoyed.

The failure to remember and honor the sacrifices by those who have gone before us will lead to a failure to preserve the very things for which they died. Freedom is not free, and those who recognize its cost will continue to pay its price so that it is preserved. That is why it is good for us to honor those who served.  It is also important to set aside time to remember the sacrifices that have been made for us, for it is also part of our worship of God. When we set aside time and participate in activities that will cause us to think about the past, we gain a sense of the moving of God’s providential hand which in turn gives us a greater confidence as we face the future.

Setting aside days or objects of remembrance are nothing new. There are many of them in both in the Old and New Testaments. Graves were a common sign and place of remembrance in ancient Israel and they still are in many societies.

There are many reasons to set aside a day to remember those who have died. I have already pointed out some of these. There is the national reason of remembering the high cost of maintaining our political freedoms. This both honors those who have made that ultimate sacrifice and helps encourage people in the present to be diligent to maintain those freedoms. That in itself is enough reason to have a national Memorial Day and even more so for those that died in the fight for such grand reasons. They yielded their lives to establish and protect political concepts that would benefit others.

While American patriotism is a hallmark of Memorial Day, there is another side to this that should be acknowledged as something of high nobility. Many of those who have served in wars our nation has fought have died on foreign soil seeking to provide or protect the freedoms of foreign peoples. Those who fought in Korea, Viet Nam, the Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan are just some examples of those who have sacrificed for others.

There is another general truth about those on the front lines. Regardless of the grand ideologies, concepts of freedom or even threat to home and hearth, when the shooting starts, the general reason for shooting back is self-preservation and trying to protect your buddies that are on the line with you. Jesus Himself commended this type of sacrifice. In John 15:12-13 Jesus said,

 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 ” Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

The stories of those who have died in demonstrating this kind of love abound. Those who volunteer for dangerous assignments or take up the most dangerous position to give the rest of their unit a greater chance. Those who have shielded others with their own bodies as bullets flew and bombs went off. Those who charged an enemy position to try to protect their friends by eliminating the enemy or drawing fire away from their buddies. Those who have demonstrated a greater concern for those they love than for their own life. There may even be those that are here today only because someone else took the hit and paid the price instead of them. It is this very reason that causes the vast majority of those who have done some heroic deed and survived to down play it as just doing their duty. They were only doing what others were also doing for the same reasons and some of those were not coming home alive. Jesus’ statement is a truth that we need to honor in those who served.  

So, on this day before Memorial Day, we honor those who have served our country but are no longer with us.  In a few moments we will have a special video and special way of honoring those who have served but are no longer with us.  As we continue in our service today, as we celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow, and as we live every day, let’s remember and give praise to God who paid the greatest sacrifice for us. Amen.