The Purpose of Memorial Day: Remember the Fallen from Both Sides

The Purpose of Memorial Day: Remember the Fallen from Both Sides May 27, 2013

The original purpose of Memorial Day was to remember the fallen from both sides of our own US Civil War or the War Between the States, depending on which side you favored. It was an attempt by a war-torn nation to acknowledge that good people, people made in God’s image who loved their country and their families more than life itself, gave their all on both sides.

It’s a good thing to do today. To remember those who never came home.

But it’s all too easy to only remember those who perished on “our” side of a conflict. If we’re going to think and live outside The Salvation Box, we’ll need a different approach.

When I talk about The Salvation Box, what I mean is that we Christians often apply our faith only to our conversion experience — and keep it there. Some Christians rightly see greater implication on life and try to apply it to other spiritual areas. But few shatter that box to let the implications of the gospel flow onto all of life. Like loving our enemies for example, and praying for those who “despitefully use” us.

Remembering Those on All Sides

Our family has had the privilege of visiting many Civil War battlefields over the last two years for various commemorations of the 150th Sesquicentennial of the conflict. One such trip took us to Shiloh, that bloodiest of battles where the bodies of well over 20,000 men from both sides lined the fields. We walked on the field where it was said that one could walk across without touching the ground, the bodies of fallen men lay so thick upon the blood-stained grass. A luminary was lit that night for each of the fallen — from both sides. The images left quite an impact.

We visited Antietam, that bloodiest of days. We walked down Bloody Lane and imagined the narrow passage filled to waist-level with dead and dying men from both sides. In those waning moments of life, the color of their uniform mattered little to God. Sometimes, perhaps on days like today, it should matter little to us.

On my recent trip to Guam and Saipan, I was struck by the same simple truth — there are good people who die on both sides of any conflict. I stood on Asan Beach in Guam and in the last Japanese command bunker in Saipan alongside Japanese tourists, many of whom, no doubt, had relatives they remember who died on those very shores or who leaped to their death in Saipan to avoid capture by the allegedly vicious Americans.

It’s easy to forget that many on the “other” side of military conflicts didn’t ask to fight us. They likely didn’t even volunteer. They fought out of a sense of duty, a love for country, a fear of consequences, or a sense of honor to their families. Not all that different from what we pray motivates us at our best.

Not Equal Causes — Just Equal People

That’s not to say that all sides are equally just in their cause. Not at all. I’m not arguing for moral equivalency of every cause. Just for the equivalency of the value of every human life, regardless of the color of the uniform. If we’re going to be consistent  in applying our faith to all of life, we must acknowledge that Christ died as much for them as he did for us.

Maybe today as we remember the fallen on “our” side, we can chip away at that lock on The Salvation Box by praying for our enemies, for their families, and those whom we blame for the loss of those dearest to us.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Not at all. But I do think it’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to do as we eagerly await the day when swords get beaten into plowshares and only the death of One need be remembered.

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