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Why I wish Memorial Day were not today: Three biblical ways to honor our heroes

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Why I wish Memorial Day were not today: Three biblical ways to honor our heroes
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I wish Memorial Day were not today.

This annual remembrance of those who died in America’s wars began after the Civil War as Decoration Day. In 1868, the thirtieth of May was designated for this purpose; the date was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. After World War I, the day was expanded to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars and continued to be observed on May 30.

However, in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, establishing Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees. The law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday; the change went into effect in 1971.

As a result, Memorial Day is now a weekend and is considered the unofficial beginning of summer in the US. AAA estimates that more than thirty-seven million Americans are traveling at least fifty miles from home over the weekend. On Friday, the US set a pandemic-era record number of passengers traveling through American airports in a single day.

Over the weekend, 56 percent of Americans plan to barbecue, which ranks second to Fourth of July for beer sales. And 45.5 percent of Americans are “likely” to take advantage of Memorial Day sales.

I’m glad Americans are able to travel and to have a three-day weekend to mark the beginning of summer. I just wish that this celebration did not conflict with what deserves to be the most solemn of all our American holidays.

If Memorial Day were always on May 30, regardless of its proximity to the weekend, perhaps it would be the stand-alone day it should be.

How Israel honors its heroes

Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-running prime minister in Israeli history, could be ousted from power by a unity government headed by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and former Netanyahu defense minister Naftali Bennett.

Lapid is expected to inform Israeli President Reuven Rivlin today that he is able to form a government with the support of Bennett. He will have a week to finalize coalition deals. At the end of the week, his proposed government will come up for a vote of confidence in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

Elections in Israel are obviously different from those in the US. The challenges faced by the State of Israel from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and other enemies sometimes seem overwhelming.

However, after leading more than thirty study tours to the Holy Land, I can testify that the culture of the Jewish nation is truly powerful and cohesive. In part because of the challenges they face, they are unified in ways I can long to see in my country.

For example, Israel’s Memorial Day is an annual observance I wish we could emulate. Called “Yom HaZikaron,” Hebrew for “memorial day,” it was enacted into law in 1963. It has been traditionally dedicated to fallen soldiers, but the day has been extended to civilian victims of terrorism as well.

The observance begins with a siren the preceding evening at 8 p.m. The siren is heard across the entire country. Israelis stop everything, including driving on roads and highways, and stand in silence. A two-minute siren is sounded at 11:00 the following morning. This marks the opening of official memorial ceremonies and private gatherings at cemeteries where soldiers are buried.

Regular television programs cease for the day, while the names and ranks of every soldier who died for Israel are displayed on a twenty-four-hour TV broadcast. Memorial candles are lit in homes, schools, synagogues, army camps, and public places. Flags are lowered to half-staff.

I have experienced this event several times in person. It is awe-inspiring to see the entire nation expressing their gratitude for those who have died for their people.

Why Memorial Day is so significant

Memorial Day is an important commemoration for at least three biblical reasons.

One: It demonstrates solidarity with those who grieve.

This day shows those whose loved ones died for our nation that our nation remembers their service. And it offers us an opportunity to stand with them and to encourage them to trust the one who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Two: It encourages those who serve.

Those in our military deserve to know that if they pay the ultimate sacrifice, they will not be forgotten. We will always remember their commitment, knowing that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Three: It calls us all to courage.

Freedom is not free. We each must do what we each can do to serve our nation and our Lord. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

What gifts have you received from our nation and our Lord?

How will you use them to serve our nation and our Lord?