The following was first published on Memorial Day, May 27, 2013.
Memorial Day has its origins in the Civil War, when Southern women began decorating the graves of their war dead. On May 30, 1868, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. After World War I, the holiday was changed to honor those who died fighting in any war.
Flags today will be flown at half-mast. However, many do not know that on Memorial Day, the flag should be flown at half-mast from sunrise to noon, then “raised briskly” to the top of the staff until sunset to honor our nation’s battle heroes. American flags will be placed on gravesites at national and local cemeteries. And a national moment of remembrance will take place at 3:00 PM local time. (Most of us seem not to know that this observance is required by law of all Americans.)
Is there a unique contribution which Christians can make to our country on Memorial Day? Consider some of my favorite Memorial Day quotes in biblical context.
Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” Whether we agree with our leaders or not, we are called by God’s word to pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Have you prayed for our president and other leaders yet today?
Billy Graham: “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” As our culture continues to turn from biblical morality, we are to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16). The apostles’ courageous witness before their nation’s leaders is our example and God’s call to us today (Acts 5:29-32). When we take our stand, others will stand with us.
Writer Joseph Campbell: “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” When we make God our King and advance his Kingdom in our nation, we serve both our Lord and our country (see Matthew 6:33).
Nearly 50 years ago, Ronald Reagan told the nation, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us [that] we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”
What will our children say of us?