Memorial Day: A United States national holiday where those who have died in the service of their country are remembered with backyard cookouts and sales at furniture, electronics and automobile retailers.
Actually, according to Wikipedia, “The practice of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Soldiers’ graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. A claim was made in 1906 that the first Civil War soldier’s grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Va., on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there.
“There is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Ga., decorated soldiers’ graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pa., was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Local historians in Boalsburg, Pa., claim that ladies there decorated soldiers’ graves on July 4, 1864. As a result, Boalsburg promotes itself as the birthplace of Memorial Day …
“The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from ‘Decoration Day’ to ‘Memorial Day,’ which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend.
“The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress’ change of date within a few years.”
So, officially, Memorial Day is intended to remember those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I have to admit, however, that there are other losses that are on many of our minds this year. Whether we are thinking of victims of terrorists, fertilizer plant explosions, or tornados, it seems that there has been too much suffering, sorrow and death in the past few weeks.
As a human being, I am reminded of how quickly life can change and those we love can be gone in a moment. It makes me want to make sure that every conversation with my family ends with an “I love you.” If this is the last conversation we have, I want them to know how much they mean to me.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am also reminded that death is not the end, but the beginning of the rest of eternity. Regardless of the circumstances under which each person breathes his or her last breath, each one enters an eternal existence either with God or separated from God. Because I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I know which destiny is mine, but I don’t know that about everyone who is reading this.
Don’t forget how much your life matters to God. Jesus died for you.
Dr. Gerry Lewis is director of missions for the Harvest Baptist Association, which is headquartered in Decatur. He writes a blog at www.lifematterstoday.blogspot.com.