Exodus 12:14 "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.
What was the first memorial day?
General John Logan, commander of the GAR in May of 1868, issued to first proclamation, that May 30 should be a memorial day. Several places claim to be its birthplace, and that the tradition began either in 1866, or perhaps 1865. It began as a way of remembering those who gave their lives in the civil war. Up until this point, there was no memorial day for those who died in the War of 1812, and there had been no memorial day for those who died in the revolutionary war. So why do we remember? Does this somehow keep the dead alive?
The dead are dead, and with death comes the judgement, remembering the dead will not bring those dead back to life, nor will it free those in hell from their fate.
Patriotism has its place, but the one thing that is important, is that which the Navy Hymn reminds us of – it is not soldiers who save – It is our Eternal Father who is strong to save – and what we remember is His salvation, and the faith which He gave, in which these soldiers died.
For the first memorial day was not over 100 years ago, but over 3000 years ago, when God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. God saves – and the scriptures testify that there is no other name given under heaven by which we may be saved. And that is the chief thing we remember this day. It is knowing that their fate is in the hands of a loving God that enables soldiers to do their duty, they know wherever they are, God is with them – Eternal Father, Strong to Save – but salvation is not just life here and now - salvation is eternal life, and if you know you have eternal life, then you are not afraid of death – for as the Psalm tells us, even through the valley of the shadow of death, our Good Shepherd and Savior is with us.
That is why we are here, not afraid of death, to remember our God who is strong to save. It is why we worship on Sunday, to celebrate the fulfillment of the promise first given in the Passover, for Jesus, the Pascal lamb has died, but is risen – and sin, death and the devil have been conquered. The gates of heaven have been opened, and we have heard the gracious words, Father forgiven them. And that is the chief thing we remember this day. The empty tomb, the forgiveness of sins, and the everlasting life which is ours in Jesus Christ.