The following is a brief history of the holiday “Memorial Day” was taken from Wikipedia.com website on the history and meaning behind Memorial Day. It said, “ Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.”
The article then went on to say, “Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are ignored and neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.” While it certainly fitting and proper to “pay our respects” for any who have died, let it be noted that Memorial Day was originally established ONLY for those who died in service to our country.
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I want to address the statement, “Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day”. Why do observances of memorials diminish, and specifically, how does this relate to the changes that have occurred in those observances? If one did not know the history behind the establishment of Memorial Day, one would never know but what the present observance was how it had always been. I believe we can see how the meaning of Memorial Day has been forgotten by studying some memorials in the Scriptures.
As we begin, let it be noted that the concept of a ‘memorial’ is that of remembering something outstanding about people or events that had a significant effect on society, whether locally, regionally, or globally. The particular activities ought to be such as would keep the memory alive, but more importantly be accurate to that person or event. When the cause for which any memorial observance becomes obscured or lost, then any changes which take place in the observance of that memorial will be based upon inaccurate information. We see that this very thing has happened with respect to Memorial Day in that it is thought by many today to be a day whereby we honor all deceased people. While each nation may have a day of remembering their military dead, let it be noted that Memorial Day is not a world wide holiday, as it was established in this country. Likewise, as we turn to the scriptures we see that some memorials were only for certain people, while others were for all humanity.
It was not established for all nations, but for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob. It was in remembrance of their freedom from bondage in Egypt. We read in Ex. 12:14, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” Then in verse 17, “And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever.” Still later, in verse 24, “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever.”
Let us note some particulars of this memorial. Again, note that this was to be observed by those who had been in slavery in Egypt and for their descendants. This had no significance or meaning to the Philistines or the Canaanites! They had no reason to ‘remember’ this event. We find further in Ex. 13:3-10, “Then Moses said to the people, "Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place. No leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. And when the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this service (i.e. the memorial of the Passover) in this month. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen with you, and no leaven shall be seen with you in all your territory. You shall tell your son on that day, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.' And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt. You shall therefore keep this statute at its appointed time from year to year.”
Take note also, that the manner of observance was significant! They could not do just anything! The importance of observing this memorial correctly is seen in the condemnation that was pronounced upon them for failure in this area. Did it matter how and when they observed the Passover? Did it matter that they remembered to keep it at all? Could they substitute any particulars? Sadly, we find that several centuries later, they had been unfaithful in remembering their past bondage.
In 2 Kings 23, we read of a series of interesting events in this nation. At this time they were ruled by a king, named Josiah. He gave this commandment to the nation, “…Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant. For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah.” How did Josiah know of the Passover? Its observance had not been ‘remembered’ for several hundred years. Why not? The answer lies in their failure in another area…the failure to pass the facts accurately from one generation to another! This nation was given laws, statutes, and ordinances from Mt. Sinai thru Moses (Ex. 20-40). They were given explicit instructions to adhere strictly to those laws as we see from Deut. 4:1-10, “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.”
Please take note of the following exhortations and warnings given by Moses to this nation, which they FAILED TO HEED!
Deut. 6:6-7 – And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Deut. 6:12-15 – Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.
Deut. 7:1-11 – When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face. Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command thee this day, to do them.
Deut. 8:2-6 – And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee. Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.
Deut. 8:11-17 – Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.
Deut. 9:4-6 – Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.
Deut. 10:12-13 – And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?
Deut. 12:2-5 – Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the LORD your God. But unto the place which the LORD your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come…
Deut. 12:8 – Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes. Deut. 12:13-14 – Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the LORD shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee.
Deut. 12:29-32 – When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
We have in these passages, detailed explanation of how the Passover memorial was perverted and then abandoned.
We find that even the copy of the Law, given to Moses had been lost! In 2 Kings 22:1-20 we see that when the Law of Moses was discovered AND READ FROM, then the truth about the observance of the Passover was learned and immediate changes were ordered so as to do as God had commanded of this nation. The punishment for disobedience was also discovered in the reading of the Law of Moses. Josiah knew what needed to be done to avoid further wrath from God; and he knew the importance of abandoning present practice! Their worship was corrupted, for they had incorporated the idolatrous practices of the heathen nations into their worship. Josiah restored true worship per the Book of the Law and he demanded a re-commitment to the keeping of that Law. In 2 Kings 23:25, his efforts were so pleasing to God that it is recorded of Josiah, “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.”
Failure to teach the will of God accurately is the ultimate cause of any departure. This happened repeatedly to this nation. After Moses died, Joshua led them into the land of promise, Canaan, and following Joshua’s death, we read in Judges 2:7, 10, “And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel...and also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.”
What happened in regard to the Passover memorial is the same pattern of failure in any departure.
Memorials in the New Testament
There are memorials in the New Testament. In Acts 10:1-4, we find “There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.”
In Acts 10:31 it is further said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.”
What ‘memorial’ did God remember from the prayers of Cornelius?
The answer is found in Acts 10:35 where we read “In every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” God remembered a promise He had made prior to the Creation…the promise of eternal life.
– Titus 1:2: “In hope of eternal life, which God…promised before the world began…”
This was purposed in Christ.”
– Eph. 3:11: “According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus.”
– Eph. 1:4-5, 7: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and w/o blame before him in love. Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself…in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…”
In connection w/this redemption, Christians have a memorial to observe. It is the observance of the death of Jesus in which our forgiveness was purchased.
We find in 1 Cor. 10:16, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”
Jesus gave these instructions to Paul: 1 Cor. 11:23-30: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.”
It is to be observed EACH first day of the week, hence the purpose for our assembling. In Heb. 10:25 we read, “…not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhort one another, and so much more as ye see the day approaching.”
Has the death of the Son of God lost significance with you?
- look at your assembling habits.
- look at your preparation for partaking of Christ’s memorial.
- look at your manner of partaking; do you examine yourself or others?
Let us resolve to be as Josiah upon learning the truth on any subject in God’s word and restore our religion to “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27).