Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day. It is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966. Many historians debate exact dates because it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day.
Regardless of the exact date or location of its origins, one thing is clear – Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War. A divided nation was called together in a desire to honor our nation’s collective dead. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan. Logan was a national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He instituted what is known as the General Order Number 11. Logan proclaimed, “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of Decoration Day, as he called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.
On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.
New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring all Americans who died fighting in any war. It is now observed in almost every state on the last Monday in May with Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 – 363). *
God calls us to remember. It’s far more tempting to forget, move on and live free from the entanglements of the past. But, we don’t learn from our mistakes if we move on too quickly. We don’t honor the good or find value in each other’s pain if we forget. God calls us to remember even though recalling experiences, people or events may be difficult emotionally. The bible includes a narrative that can capture our imagination brilliantly as God calls the Israelites to remember and to move on.
Joshua was a Godly military and political leader for the Israelites. When the tribes were ready to inherit the Promised Land, they were given specific instructions as to how to proceed. They were also called by God to remember and build a memorial. The next generation would inherit what God promised. God called the Israelites to remember all that God accomplished and how he provided for them. Many from the previous generation died during the years of wandering in desert. I believe the Israelites were also called to remember them. Death was part of the price the Israelites paid for their unbelief and rebellious hearts. It’s not hard to imagine how the faces of loved ones may have come to mind as each of the appointed twelve men hoisted a stone to their shoulder. They would’ve personally recalled mothers, fathers, warriors, children, friends and even enemies that died. To this day, it is a custom of the Jewish faith to place a small stone on the headstone when visiting a grave. Their small stone is a visible reminder loved ones are not forgotten. It is an act of love and remembrance.
The LORD remained faithful to the People of Israel especially during times of difficulty, suffering and pain. The LORD remains faithful to us today. Invite loved ones and friends to join you for our annual observance of Memorial Day at Wheatland Sunday. We will take time to remember and encourage you to do the same.
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” Joshua 4:4-7 NIV