Another Memorial Day weekend and hopefully we don’t just consider it a three day weekend but also recognize on Monday that this is Memorial Day, we consider what that should mean to us and why we celebrate it. I think one of the things some can get a bit confused with at times is they really don’t look at it as we are supposed to see Memorial Day, the remembrance of those who died serving in the country’s armed forces, but rather as Veteran’s Day. Both are important, but also distinct. Like, but not exactly the same as, the difference between martyrs and saints. It is not to place one higher or lower than the other, but to recognize the distinction.
The line I copied above that describes Memorial Day as the “remembrance of those who died serving in the country’s armed forces” is distinct from other descriptions that are more restrictive in describing “those who died serving their country in war” or even a later change to “serving their country in any war or military action.” Actually it started just honoring Union Soldiers who died during the American Civil War, but through the years would be extended, and the way in which it has been extended I think helps us to recognize what we wish to honor. At first those from the one war were what was most obvious to people since it had so many fatalities and was so recent in their minds, but as the years went on they recognized that it wasn’t just the dying in that war that was a concern, but in any war, or any military action.
If someone is in a war or military action they know that they are at mortal risk for their country. They may have volunteered or been drafted, but they are there. If they die in this situation we don’t consider that they wanted to, but recognize that death is one of the results of wars and military actions. Honoring these deceased we recognize the seriousness of what they were fighting for by what we lost to protect it. Hopefully not only does this make us more aware of the importance of each life that was lost, but also of the real price of wars and military actions. As a result we not only honor those who have died directly, but also indirectly by how we value the lives of those who are currently in the armed forces by only considering new armed conflicts when there are the gravest of necessities.
One of the first activities that was identified with Memorial Day was in 1866 when a group of women in the South were putting flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers and they also placed some on those of the Union soldiers. If we are to truly consider the price of wars and military actions we not only consider our dead, but all who died in a conflict. Our faith challenges us not just to value our own life, or just that of our friends’ or those who fight for us, but also our enemies’, to value all life. God has given us this great gift, and also our freedom in how we use it.