Memorial Day, once called Decoration Day, is meant to honor those who have died in our nation’s service. People decorate soldiers’ graves, play taps, hold solemn parades, and remember those who have given their lives to defend our freedom. At least, they used to. Memorial Day has fallen into neglect, and become just a three day weekend that launches summer. But search online, and you’ll discover people dedicated to reviving the customs that call to mind the sacrifices of our service men and women. Theirs is a strenuous effort, because our natural tendency is to forget the past and its lessons.
Recently I heard a new age guru on a CD, intoning about living only in the moment. The past was of no value, he said, and the future was not to be thought of. Soft chimes and soothing music backed him up. Don’t look back or forward at all. Just be, today. I have to say I completely disagree, and so does the Creator God of the Bible.
From the beginning of history, God has established memorials to help us not to forget our history. Remembering the past is essential to living well in the present. When the past is forgotten, you end up with this: “there arose another generation after them who did not know Yahweh or the work that He had done for Israel.” That’s in Judges 2:10, and it’s the beginning of a sorry tale of a people who forgot that God delivered them from 400 years of slavery, and went into a moral freefall highlighted by idol worship, prostitution, and child sacrifice. The book of Judges ends with this heartbreaking summary: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
If the people had paid attention to the memorials God established, the history of Israel would have been much brighter. They kept Passover, but did not remain grateful for the deliverance it pictured, nor faithful to their Deliverer. They set up memorial stones at the Jordan River, but strayed from the God who ushered them into the Promised Land. God set up memorials in their clothing, their diet, their calendars, and every aspect of their law and worship, to no avail. They forgot Him.
We, the church also have difficulty remembering important things. We celebrate communion as a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us. But how often do we eat the bread and drink the cup like robots, without contemplating the immensity of the gift given us? Christmas, though not a biblical feast, is meant as a remembrance of God coming to earth to save us. Need we discuss what it has become? Even Easter, better called Resurrection Day, has been corrupted into a celebration of spring, replete with bizarre pagan symbolism. Our marriages, besides being the basic building block of human society, are to reflect the beauty of Christ’s love for the church. Oh, how we fail to remember this as we mistreat and disrespect our spouses. We forget. We forget what is important. We forget our God and all His marvelous works toward us. We forget why we’re here, what our past means, what our future holds.
Wait, aren’t we supposed to live in the moment? Well, yes and no. Like many concepts in Christianity, there is a tension between two seemingly opposite ideas, both of which are true. We’re to rejoice in today, while remembering the blessings of the past. We’re not to be anxious about tomorrow, which has enough trouble of its own, but we are exhorted to plan ahead. We’re to forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead as we redeem the time each day. Nevertheless, throughout the Bible God emphasizes the importance of remembering. Learn from mistakes others made. Remember who loves you. Remember what you’ve been given, and at what price. Make this Memorial Day a day of remembrance, indeed.
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