Memorial Day is not a day for looking ahead to happy times. It’s a time to look back and remember. It’s all about remembering loss.
In 1868 General John Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance on May 30th for the 650,000 Americans who died during the Civil War.
WWI cost America 116,708 deaths, including 43,000 who fell in the attacks by Spanish Flu.
There was a brigade surgeon who looked out over the field where chlorine gas was released for the first time in war. 87,000 Allied Soldiers died there and another 37,000 who fought for the Kaiser. The doctor’s best friend was among them.
Remembering a cluster of red poppies growing among the dead, he later penned the famous poem beginning with: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow beneath the crosses, row on row.”
The wearing of a poppy became the mark of remembering those lost to war.
Much has changed since those days. More names have been added to the list of the lost. Yet, it seems the day for remembering has become more of a holiday than a solemn observance.
Some are eager to move on to the future. “The past,” they say, “is past.” What good does it do to go back over what we cannot change? Why remember?
Those who have only a memory left of their loved ones might answer: “We cannot forget. We don’t want others to forget.”
At the 1945 dedication of the Fifth Marine Division Cemetery on Iwo Jima, Chaplain Gittelsohn said this: “We memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us.”
We recall words from God: “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past.” Then he tells us how to do this: “Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
The younger do not understand. They must learn from the older. They need to be taught the true cause of war and the only source of peace.
True understanding comes only when they learn that God the Father lost his Son in the battle for our eternal life! That war is now over. It is time to remember the victory.
A cross became his memorial marker. But no body lies beneath it. That marker points to an empty grave. These are reminders of the life never-ending and the peace never-broken that he has won.
If remembering loss can lead us to remembering Christ, Memorial Day will have served us well.
For truly, it can be said of Christ, “He did not die in vain.”
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military