I wish I could say I have always loved Memorial Day, but I’ve probably loved the three day weekend that marked the beginning of summer more than anything else. If someone brought it up, I would briefly reflect upon its significance, but it never really weighed upon me – even though I knew it should.
For some reason it’s settling heavier on me this year. Perhaps it’s our recent move to a city with a strong military presence – where our house is a stone’s throw from a joint forces training base gates. Maybe I’m getting more appreciative as I age. I think more than anything else, is what I’m reading and watching. I’m reading A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White, Jr. and watching the 1990 PBS Ken Burns Civil War documentary. Lincoln’s an extraordinary leader, but tonight I was struck by Burns’ presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg and the massive carnage. It was terrible. Tens of thousands of casualties in just one battle.
Why? Certainly slavery was a huge issue that drove the states to war, but, at least from what I’m reading, freeing the slaves was not a powerful motivator to many of the Northern troops or citizens (though there were many who advocated for it passionately and they eventually won the day).
So again, why? They loved the Union. It was worth fighting for. So much comes so easy to so many of us that I can’t imagine spilling that much blood just to maintain a union that the other half is willing to spill just as much blood to dissolve. That’s a stunning of love of country. It humbles me to think of what these men sacrificed a century and a half ago to hold a nation together.
And it humbles me to think of the many since then who have given their lives for the sake of our freedom and union – and the freedom of others all around the world. Memorial Day should settle heavy, indeed. We owe much to those who have paid the ultimate price because they loved their country and, by giving their lives, loved us as well.
This willingness to sacrifice is noble and it, of course, reminds us of the words and actions of Jesus, who suffered unjustly that He might bear our sins on the cross for our good and God’s glory: “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13).
Do more than barbecue this Memorial Day Weekend. Give thanks.