Americans recently celebrated Memorial Day by eating barbecue, shopping, traveling, going to the beach, decorating graves and honoring veterans who lost their lives while serving in the nation's armed forces. More than 42 million Americans have served in the military during times of war, and approximately 1,264,000 of have been killed during armed conflicts. While many Americans take the time to reflect upon and honor the sacrifices of freedom's martyrs, the three-day weekend also drives many other activities.
According to WalletHub, approximately 75 percent of Americans planned to barbecue over the extended weekend, 39.3 million to take trips by car, and 2.9 million to travel by plane. Many businesses offered sales during this traditional start of the summer season. WalletHub estimates that 41.4 percent of Americans were likely to take advantage of these discounted prices. The Wall Street Journal has argued that Memorial Day has economic consequences in retail sales, car sales, gasoline sales, tourism, meat sales and grills/outdoor furniture sales.
The history of Memorial Day begins with the ancient tradition of honoring fallen heroes with feasts and the decoration of graves with flowers. The ancient Greeks and Romans had days of remembrance. The carnage of the Civil War (620,000 dead) created many families that lost at least one family member. Graves were being decorated in the north and south in different ways and on different dates. In 1868, General John Logan (commander of a union veterans group) declared May 30 as "Decoration Day" to honor the Civil War dead. The idea gained general acceptance.
With World War I, the purpose of Decoration Day began to evolve from commemoration of the Civil War fallen, to the honoring of all armed service members killed in war. The name gradually morphed into Memorial Day after World War II. And in 1968, congress made Memorial Day a national holiday and moved the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May to create a three-day weekend. Throughout the metamorphic changes in the holiday, the purpose has remained the same: to honor and respect the ultimate sacrifices of the few which benefited the many.
The Lord believes in memorials. The online dictionary, WordBook, defines memorial as "recognition of meritorious service" or "a structure erected to commemorate persons or events." The Lord gives memorials to remind us of His faithfulness, power and lovingkindness. We can also do things that will create a memorial with Him. In all instances, memorials are used for generational impacts.
The Lord has given many memorials. The Lord gave His Name, YHWH, to the Israelites as a memorial for all generations. The Passover Feast was given as a memorial of the great deliverance He performed in Egypt. When He gave the Israelites a great victory over the Amalekites, He told Moses to write it down as a memorial. Memorials remind us of His power, lovingkindness, mercy and grace.
God, moreover, said to Moses, "Thus you will say to the children of Israel, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations,'" (Ex. 3:15).
"This day shall be a memorial to you, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord. Throughout your generations you shall keep it a feast by an eternal ordinance" (Ex. 12:14).
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write this as a memorial in a book and rehearse it to Joshua, for I will utterly wipe out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven'" (Ex. 17:14).
The Israelites crossed the Jordan river on dry ground during flood season in a miraculous intervention. The Lord demonstrated that He was with Joshua as He had been with Moses. As a memorial, the Lord told Joshua to have one member of each tribe pick up a stone from the middle of the now-dry Jordan river and set them up on the other side of the river. The memorial was to remind future generations.
"So that this will be a sign among you. When your children ask, 'What do these stones mean to you?' you will answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones will be a memorial for the children of Israel continually" (Josh. 4:6-7).
We can also do things that will create a memorial before Him. Throughout the Old Testament, the atonement money, the priests' dress and a portion of the sacrifices are called memorials to the Lord.
"You must take the atonement money of the children of Israel and give it for the service of the tent of meeting, so that it may be a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord, to make atonement for your lives" (Ex. 30:16).
In the New Testament, memorials are created by actions. When a woman poured a jar of alabaster perfume over Jesus' head, He indicated that the story would be told forever as a memorial to her. An angel appeared to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. He told him to send for Peter, who taught him the gospel. Cornelius and his family were the first Gentiles in the new church. It is important to note that the angel appeared to Cornelius because his prayers and alms had gone up as a memorial before God.
"She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel will be preached throughout the whole world, what she has done will also be spoken of as a memorial to her" (Mark 14:8-9).
"When he looked at him he was afraid, and said, 'What is it, Lord?' He said to him, 'Your prayers and your alms have come up as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and bring back Simon whose surname is Peter'" (Acts 10:4-5).
Memorials are important and are often ignored in today's modern world. For the sake of current and future generations, we need to establish personal memorials. Memorials may take the form of written diaries, pictures, stories, rituals, traditions or a variety of other things. But we need to consciously plan and act for future generations. Our lives should also be lived as a memorial to Him.
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics and undergraduate chair of the College of Business at Oral Roberts University.
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