Growing up, I never truly understood Memorial Day. My hometown of Holland, Michigan, would host a parade every year. Being part of a high school marching band, I was required to march every year in it—starting downtown, marching through the city, and ending at the cemetery. My band director always had one big rule: when we neared the cemetery, we were to stop playing our instruments.
Parade Rest and Parade Respect
We would practice the routine multiple times at school. My director would blow his whistle to signal to band members to finish up the patriotic song of choice. A single percussionist then would tap out an easy rhythm on the rim of the snare drum with the flat of his drumstick. The rest of us would lower our instruments to our sides, standing straight, tall, and silent as we passed the outer edge of the cemetery and the flags that fluttered in the wind.
My director always took the parade so seriously. We’d get a speech in the band room about how much it meant that people gave their lives for us and how we needed to have the utmost respect and professionalism. He would remind us that we could sacrifice one day off from school for those who had given everything. Being an immature high schooler, I always thought he was going over the top.
A Change of Perspective
I really never understood why my director was always so serious until I moved to St. Louis after college and I took my best friend to Jefferson Barracks Park. Jefferson Barracks Park is a former U.S. Army post that now houses museums and it's adjacent to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The day I visited the cemetery with my friend, we walked for miles, among thousands of white tombstones that stand in perfectly straight rows, each with names, dates, military rank, religious affiliation, and flowers.
And as we walked row after row, I felt a little cog connecting the pieces of Memorial Day and its importance. Suddenly, there were names. There were dates: life and death. There were husbands and wives lovingly buried next to each other. I saw people younger than me who gave their lives to protect my right to vote, to post this blog, to “the pursuit of happiness,” and my right to profess my faith.
But perhaps the one to reflect on the most, the one who gave His life not just for my physical life, but for my eternal life, is Christ. He gave his life to pay for my sins—something so grand I cannot comprehend it in its entirety. Even in this world, where I am a sinner and unworthy, He still calls on us to pray to Him and have a relationship with Him. His sacrifice for believers is above all else.
Time to Reflect and Pray
On Memorial Day, I know many families will gather at Jefferson Barracks and other military cemeteries around the country. People will stand at parades with American flags to show their appreciation for our troops. They will take moments of silence to reflect on or mourn fallen soldiers. But, in this time of reflection on the fallen, I hope you'll join me also in praying for our nation, those currently protecting our freedom, and giving thanks to Christ for His ultimate sacrifice for all mankind.
Prayer for Memorial Day
Gracious Lord, heavenly Father, on this day we pause to remember the sacrifices made for freedom throughout the past centuries. We do indeed owe a debt of gratitude to those who have paid dearly for the liberty we enjoy. Yet, O Lord, I know that good government, peace, and freedom are really gifts granted from Your fatherly hand, as I confess in the Creed. As we remember those who have served our nation, help us to remember that civic duty, no matter how well done, does not grant entrance to Your kingdom. We are saved by grace, through faith in Christ, apart from our works. Freed from the Law’s demands, I know that I am now free to serve my neighbor for my neighbor’s sake. May the sacrifices of those who have gone before me serve as examples. When I meet those who have served, remind me to thank them. Almighty God, guide the leaders of our nation. Watch over those who serve in our armed forces, especially those far from home. And above all, grant that we, Your children by faith in Christ, may find a field of service in which we, as salt and leaven, may uphold righteousness, order, and peace in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Prayer excerpted from Lutheran Book of Prayer copyright © 2005 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
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