LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR
May 28, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129
Memorial Day is upon us and the beginning of summer. The origin of this day of remembrance goes back to 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic set aside the day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers who died during the Civil War. There were some 600,000 deaths from North and South during this war. Eventually the nation coalesced on a national observance on May 30. This was changed in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional days to a specified Monday in order to create long weekend. Objections are still being raised to this practice as it tends to obscure the meaning of the day.
It is a good thing to remember what those who died for a cause gave up for their friends. It was Jesus who said, “Greater love has no one than this, than someone lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13). The Church has its Memorial Day. It is called All Saints Day and is celebrated on November 1. It does, however, loose much of its meaning because of the interference of Halloween.
There is an element of difference between the secular celebration of those who gave a noble sacrifice for their nation or their cause and the celebration of Christians. When the Apostle Paul calls to remembrance those who have passed on he talks about them as living, not dead. He sees them as gathered in the presence of God watching us and cheering us on.
He says in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a crowd of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The image, of course, is a Roman amphitheater where the living Christians are running a race. Those who have gone before are in the stands encouraging them. Paul mentions fourteen of them in chapter 11. There is something invigorating about this concept. It does not cancel out the gratitude we have for those who have died a noble death. However, it motivates us to live a noble life as we see death not as an end of things but as a change of address. We will join Abraham and Jacob in the stands encouraging those who have not yet crossed the finish line.
This may be a foreign concept to some of those who read these lines, but it is one of those things that make life meaningful for those with faith. Our goodbyes are temporary. Our gratitude is observed. Our heroes are rooting for us as we run our race. Memorial Day breaks through the barrier of memory to the land of hope.
Memories are good. Hope is better.
(Bill Scarle can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org) END-whs