Memorial Day weekend

I hope you all have a good Memorial Day weekend. This is a day that started as a commemoration to honor those who died in battle for their country. It expanded, at least in part of the country such as the Oklahoma where I grew up, into a “decoration day” to remember all of those in one’s family who have died and to put flowers on their graves. Now, since schools adjourn around this time, it is mainly observed as the beginning of the summer, a time to cook out and get a start on summer vacations.

Again, we see a holiday becoming generalized past recognition of its original meaning. And yet, if we hold onto all of those meanings (sacrificial death for others, death of loved ones, rest from work), Memorial Day can be a distinctly Christian day, in which we soberly recognize death but with a foretaste of the eternal summer with our loved ones and the eternal vacation from our labors that await those who die in Christ.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I don’t know how valid Mississippi’s claims are to starting Decoration Day (nearby Columbus, MS, claims it) , but I believe it did begin in the south, after the Civil War, when southern women ceremoniously placed flowers on the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers.
    It expanded into a remembrance of the dead from all wars, but in my childhood I recall it being a day pretty much to brighten the graves of family members.
    Sadly, my parents were not much for ceremony, but a pious old aunt used to take me along when she tidied up the graves of family members, then set flowers, usually from her own garden. And there were plenty of other people at the cemetery, doing the same thing for their family.
    I now see my Christian aunt had greater respect for death, and perhaps for family, than my unbelieving or indifferent-to-religion parents (I hasten to add, they were good, loving parents). I think, by not attending to or even recognizing such solemn ceremony, they demonstrated the fear of death that lack of faith bestows.
    Fear of death is a form of respect, but it’s a hollow respect. More just a nod to the inevitable, but only when it must be acknowledged. Not going to the cemetery was my parents’ way of not having to acknowledge dying.
    Sad, that the cemetery and the absence of loved ones was all they understood of death.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    I don’t know how valid Mississippi’s claims are to starting Decoration Day (nearby Columbus, MS, claims it) , but I believe it did begin in the south, after the Civil War, when southern women ceremoniously placed flowers on the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers.
    It expanded into a remembrance of the dead from all wars, but in my childhood I recall it being a day pretty much to brighten the graves of family members.
    Sadly, my parents were not much for ceremony, but a pious old aunt used to take me along when she tidied up the graves of family members, then set flowers, usually from her own garden. And there were plenty of other people at the cemetery, doing the same thing for their family.
    I now see my Christian aunt had greater respect for death, and perhaps for family, than my unbelieving or indifferent-to-religion parents (I hasten to add, they were good, loving parents). I think, by not attending to or even recognizing such solemn ceremony, they demonstrated the fear of death that lack of faith bestows.
    Fear of death is a form of respect, but it’s a hollow respect. More just a nod to the inevitable, but only when it must be acknowledged. Not going to the cemetery was my parents’ way of not having to acknowledge dying.
    Sad, that the cemetery and the absence of loved ones was all they understood of death.

  • Bror Erickson

    As society gets more and more mobile it becomes harder to celebrate this holiday in the original manner. I don’t have a buried relative with in a thousand miles of where I live. Add to that the current trend of cremation soon there won’t be any memorials to go take care of.
    That said it is evidenced by all the flowers at the graveyards here in Utah that it is still celebrated in good fashion here. I won’t go into all the reasons for that though.

  • Bror Erickson

    As society gets more and more mobile it becomes harder to celebrate this holiday in the original manner. I don’t have a buried relative with in a thousand miles of where I live. Add to that the current trend of cremation soon there won’t be any memorials to go take care of.
    That said it is evidenced by all the flowers at the graveyards here in Utah that it is still celebrated in good fashion here. I won’t go into all the reasons for that though.

  • Pingback: Memorial Day! « Strengthened by Grace

  • Pingback: Memorial Day! « Strengthened by Grace

  • Gale Kane

    It is Memorial Day evening here in Oklahoma. The air is heavy and there will be thunderstorms before morning. My husband and I took and after dinner walk on the golf course, past the Delaware Cemetery. The graveyard served the Silver Lake Baptist Church. Delaware preachers met there for preaching on a circuit not long after the Civil War. Some of the oldest graves in the county are there. Charles Journeycake, the Delaware evangelist is buried there.
    The tribe had a clean-up day last week. This evening many of the graves are bright with decorations. It is a happy sight. Some graves are marked only with sandstone rocks, but the relatives have come with flowers. Surrounded by the cart paths and neatly mowed fairways of the country club, overlooking the flood plain of the Caney River, it is an idyllic site, almost spiritual. You can see why the settlers chose this place to await the Lord’s return. There are 2 Civil War veterans buried there, both Union men. The local Boy Scouts have marked the graves with flags. Some families still lingered visiting as we walked by. Everybody howdied even though we didn’t know anyone.
    I’m sorry some of you are too far from family to visit the cemetery this weekend. It is always a reminder that the communion of saints is also vertical – not just visiting over coffee and doughnuts on Sunday morning. It is comforting.

  • Gale Kane

    It is Memorial Day evening here in Oklahoma. The air is heavy and there will be thunderstorms before morning. My husband and I took and after dinner walk on the golf course, past the Delaware Cemetery. The graveyard served the Silver Lake Baptist Church. Delaware preachers met there for preaching on a circuit not long after the Civil War. Some of the oldest graves in the county are there. Charles Journeycake, the Delaware evangelist is buried there.
    The tribe had a clean-up day last week. This evening many of the graves are bright with decorations. It is a happy sight. Some graves are marked only with sandstone rocks, but the relatives have come with flowers. Surrounded by the cart paths and neatly mowed fairways of the country club, overlooking the flood plain of the Caney River, it is an idyllic site, almost spiritual. You can see why the settlers chose this place to await the Lord’s return. There are 2 Civil War veterans buried there, both Union men. The local Boy Scouts have marked the graves with flags. Some families still lingered visiting as we walked by. Everybody howdied even though we didn’t know anyone.
    I’m sorry some of you are too far from family to visit the cemetery this weekend. It is always a reminder that the communion of saints is also vertical – not just visiting over coffee and doughnuts on Sunday morning. It is comforting.

  • Manxman

    I think the essence of Memorial Day should be gratitude. Just like we should be grateful for the high price Jesus paid our salvation with His blood, so too, we should remember & be grateful for the blood of America’s soldiers which has purchased for us the blessings we enjoy right now. I think the entitlement mentality exhibited by too many Americans today undermines the sense of gratitude that ought to be there, both for Christ and for holidays like Memorial Day. We forget that we have been purchased with a very steep price.

  • Manxman

    I think the essence of Memorial Day should be gratitude. Just like we should be grateful for the high price Jesus paid our salvation with His blood, so too, we should remember & be grateful for the blood of America’s soldiers which has purchased for us the blessings we enjoy right now. I think the entitlement mentality exhibited by too many Americans today undermines the sense of gratitude that ought to be there, both for Christ and for holidays like Memorial Day. We forget that we have been purchased with a very steep price.

  • Manxman

    A friend sent me this today –

    What Is A Veteran?

    A “Veteran” – whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve – is someone who at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount “up to, and including his life.”

    That is honor, and there are way too many people in this country today, who no longer understand that fact or why someone would write out that check in the
    first place.

  • Manxman

    A friend sent me this today -

    What Is A Veteran?

    A “Veteran” – whether active duty, discharged, retired, or reserve – is someone who at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to “The United States of America,” for an amount “up to, and including his life.”

    That is honor, and there are way too many people in this country today, who no longer understand that fact or why someone would write out that check in the
    first place.


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