And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
This day as I write this, people all across America are celebrating Memorial Day. It is sadly ironic that although much of the US is taking a day off from work to observe this holiday, precious few actually REMEMBER what it is really about. Memorial Day was first instituted a few years after the end of the Civil War, created as a day to honor the soldiers of both the Union and the Confederacy who had died. Since 1868, the graves of fallen soldiers have been decorated with flags, and the people of this country have stopped for a while to honor those who gave their lives defending the freedoms we all hold so dear. While some states in the former Confederacy hold separate observances for their Civil War dead, the whole nation does honor the memory of the men and women who have given their lives in other wars and conflicts. This weekend, over a million flags are flying on graves of lost soldiers across this country, and in those towns that remember this day, larger flags are flying at half-staff, lowered in solemn remembrance of those who fought and died for us.
Since President Lyndon Johnson signed a law placing Memorial Day on the last Monday of May–as opposed to its traditional date on May 30th–the whole nation has come to treat Memorial Day as just another excuse to take a day off from work and start their summer with cookouts, baseball games, and other group activities. Very few will be visiting the graves of the soldiers for whom this Memorial Day was designated. Very few will spend time in prayer for the surviving families of the recently fallen soldiers of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Very few will express their love and honor to those who still serve in harm’s way all around the globe. In short, for most people this is no longer a day to remember but a day to forget.
As Jesus sat at His last Passover meal with His disciples, He knew that after He died some of them might forget why He came. Some might see Him die and just walk away in discouragement, not understanding that His death was necessary for the redemption of us all. Some might reflect too much on the miracles and the healings, forgetting that those things were but prelude to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Some might focus so much on feeding the multitude with bread that they would forget to feed them the gospel, too. And so our Lord instituted a way for believers to remember what He was about to do and why He did it.
Jesus broke the bread and shared the wine to symbolize and solemnize His coming death. All that Jesus had done in His ministry was leading up to that day on the Cross, and it was important for the purpose of His death to be remembered. Coming generations would make that Last Supper part of the everyday observances of the church, a sacrament which we call the “eucharist” or “communion.” We take the bread and the wine in remembrance of our Lord who was slain for our sins–His body broken to take the punishment for our sins, His blood washing us clean of the stain of our iniquity. We are meant to remember those things, to observe them regularly and with understanding.
And yet we do not.
Like the modern US observance of Memorial Day, the Last Supper and communion have become just another moment in our Sunday services–at least, for those who celebrate communion, which not all churches do. Christ told His disciples to “do this in remembrance of Me,” and yet so many have forgotten Him. So many in this land have turned away from God and are so enamored of themselves and their own entertainment that they neglect God and Christ altogether. Pursuing our own freedom right into wastefulness and sin, many people ignore the God who calls them to righteousness, ignore the Son of God who died for them, ignore the Holy Spirit who seeks to enter their lives. As this country has become more God-less, so have we turned away from honoring those who have fought and died for us. Those same people who ignore God also neglect the fallen heroes of the many wars fought to defend this country and to free the world of tyranny and persecution.
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
14 “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
Millions of Americans have laid down their lives for their friends, for their country, and even for people they did not know. And Jesus went to the Cross without ever meeting face-to-face most of the people He was sent to save. You and I never spoke to Jesus nor saw Him preach, and yet He came to bring the peace of God to all who believe in Him. (John 3:16) Jesus asked us all to remember His sacrifice, to live lives full of the grace which He bought for us, to never forget that God sent His Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. (Romans 5:8)
For the Christian, even if we are not always taking communion, every day should be a memorial day. Every day should be full of the memory of what Christ did for us, the body that was broken and the blood that was shed. Every day should be a time to stop and reflect on the mercy of our loving and living God. Every day should be a time to allow the Holy Spirit to connect us to He who was slain, and to enact the will of the Father here on earth. Every day should be grasped as the precious gift that it is, bought for us by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
And, too, we should always remember those soldiers who died for our country, the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way so that we did not have to. While much of the country is ignoring the tiny flags on the graves and the red poppies on lapels, we who remember the One who gave His life for His friends, we must also remember the millions of lives lost during the wars our country has fought to maintain this freedom we now have. More than that, we must honor their sacrifice by continuing to defend this country and her Constitution against all powers, foreign and domestic, that would threaten our freedom and our faith. Our Savior and our soldiers did not die so we could have bratwurst and beer on the last Monday in May, they died so that we might LIVE and REMEMBER. Truly, a greater love has no man than that he would give his life for his friends. What then ought we to give on this Memorial Day?
Holy Father God, I remember. I remember Your Son, and I weep with joy at Your mercy and grace. I remember the soldiers, and I honor their sacrifice with prayers of thanksgiving. I remember the men and women who serve as soldiers for our country and also those who serve as soldiers for Your kingdom. I remember, Lord God, that I, too, am on the front lines of this battle against forgetfulness and evil. Show me, Father, how my life would best serve You. Amen.