What we know as Memorial Day began as Decoration Day. In America, the custom of visiting the cemetery to clean and decorate the graves of deceased family members soon became occasions for family reunions and picnics as well. After the War Between the States, people recognized the need to set a special day to honor those who died in the Civil War. Following World War I the special day was expanded to honor all who had died in American wars.
For us, Memorial Day should be more than a three-day weekend, barbecues and shopping. It should remind us that freedom is never free. It should help us remember how privileged we really are because millions fought and won battles for freedom against tyranny and oppression. It should give us a pause to reflect and to realize that many paid for our freedom with their very lives.
However, we are prone to forget the significance of this day. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wisely said, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” Sometimes we forget that freedom is not free.
In remembrance of the fallen troops who died in service, Memorial Day marks a time of giving thanks and being grateful. It is a time to remember the great sacrifice of the fallen soldiers. It reminds us how precious freedom is and that it still needs to be guarded closely. As we celebrate Memorial Day, we pay tribute to those who have given their lives in our nation’s wars. Robert A. Heinlein said, “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.”
Memorial Day reminds me of two things. On one hand, it’s all about remembering the price of our freedom. It is recalling the cost paid to secure our way of life in liberty. The very most a person can do for his friend is to die for him – a clear demonstration of supreme love. However, Memorial Day also reminds me of the greatest cost ever given by any man to bring freedom to others. It is a day to recall the great price Jesus paid to free us from the death penalty of our sins and to grant soul liberty, salvation and eternal life.
Jesus spoke of this great love in John 15:13 when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The “greater love” is shown, not discussed—but displayed, becoming visible when one willingly gives his life for another. This is the kind of love Jesus has for each one of us. Jesus demonstrated His love by giving His life a sacrifice “for his friends” – literally in behalf of his friends, or in the place of his friends.
The “friends” Jesus died for, were actually His enemies when He died for them. This fact is what makes the sacrificial love of Christ so amazing. Only a few people would willingly die for friends, but Jesus died for the enemy, the hater, for those who despised Him. Paul wrote, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
Marcus Dods said that, “Self-sacrifice is the high-water mark of love.” To sacrifice oneself requires more than words or desire. Peter thought he was ready to lay his life down for Jesus, but in the face of an accusation by a servant girl, denied the Lord three times (John 18:17, 18, 25-27). All the professions of love and devotion can only be proven by actions. The Lord Jesus verified His love by laying down “his life for his friends.” This was, and is, the supreme example of sacrificial love.
Several years later Peter wrote this about Christ’s sacrifice for our sins: “He himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” because it is “by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
The Lord’s love for us was immeasurable. His compassion for our condemned condition was so strong, that, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).
As Peter wrote, this sacrifice Jesus made, this death He died for us, was so He could, “bring us to God.” His atoning death was able to please the holy and righteous demands of God because “Christ also loved us and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:2).
The Bible also teaches that Jesus lives to secure the salvation He died to purchase, so that, “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2).
Why not make this a Double Memorial Day? On this Memorial Day, remember those who paid the ultimate cost, giving their lives for your national freedom. And rejoice and trust in the One who gave His life for your spiritual freedom. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). And freedom in Christ is the greatest freedom the world has ever seen.