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Memorial Day in a pandemic: Why remembering is so transforming

On August 27, 1776, George Washington addressed his soldiers before the Battle of Long Island. This was the first major battle after America declared her independence.

Gen. Washington stated: “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves . . . . The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.”

We are now part of the “unborn millions” whose lives are indescribably different because of the soldiers who died to purchase our freedom.

Yesterday, America marked Memorial Day in the midst of a pandemic. Parades and events were dramatically different as social distancing rules were enforced.

However, we could fly our flags, as my wife and I did over the weekend. We could express gratitude for those who died so we could live and pray for those who grieve their deaths. We could remember those who went before us and made possible the freedoms we share today.

Why remembering is so transforming

In fact, remembering our past is a biblical principle and priority.

The Jewish people still gather each Passover to remember the day they were liberated from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 12:21–28). After they crossed the flooded Jordan River, the people gathered twelve “stones of remembrance” from the river bed to build a “memorial forever” (Joshua 4:1–10). Jesus taught us to take the bread and cup of the Last Supper “in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24–25).

Why is remembrance especially important in these days?

When we remember the valor of our past heroes, we are inspired to emulate their courage in serving our nation and her people today (cf. Hebrews 12:1). When we remember our unity in waging our war for independence and world wars for democracy, we are inspired to serve and sacrifice together for our good and God’s glory (cf. Acts 4:32).

When we remember the grief of those who lost loved ones in the service of our nation, we are inspired to pray for them with compassion (cf. John 11:35). And when we remember the price Jesus paid for our salvation, we are inspired to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor for whom he died (Mark 12:30–31).

In fact, such remembrance is so important that every day should be Memorial Day.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was not officially adopted as America’s national anthem until 1931. Before that, the song “Hail, Columbia!” served in this capacity for many events. Joseph Hopkinson (1770–1842), a lawyer and congressman, wrote it for the inauguration of George Washington. It is played today whenever the vice president enters an event.

The first stanza:

Hail, Columbia! happy land!

Hail, ye heroes, heav’n born band!

Who fought and bled in Freedom’s cause,

Who fought and bled in Freedom’s cause,

And when the storm of war was gone,

Enjoyed the peace your valor won.

Let independence be our boast,

Ever mindful what it cost,

Ever grateful for the prize,

Let its altar reach the skies.

May we be “ever mindful” what freedom cost, this day and every day. And let us pay any price to serve our Lord and each other, to the glory of God.