Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service. Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans nowadays have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are ignored and neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country. While it is proper and fitting to pay our respects to any who have died, I simply am pointing out that the holiday was originally intended for those who died in service to our country.
Let us consider how and why observance of memorials diminish. If one did not know the history behind the establishment of the holiday, one would never know but what the current observance was how it had always been. There were many memorials established int eh Bible and, as we study the changes that occurred with them, we can see how and why the same thing has occurred in regard to Memorial Day.
As we begin, let it be noted that the idea of a memorial is to remember something outstanding about a person or persons or event(s) that had a significant effect in society, whether locally, regionally, nationally, or globally. The particular activities associated with each memorial observance are such as would relate to that for which the person(s) or event(s) were noted. In other words, the actives ought to be such as would keep the memory alive, but also be accurate to that person or event. When the cause for which any memorial observance becomes obscured or lost, then changes take place which may be based upon inaccurate information. We see such has happened with respect to Memorial Day.
As we turn to the scriptures, we see that some memorials were only for certain people, while others were for all humanity.
The Passover was not established for all nations, but for the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was in remembrance of their freedom from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 12.14,17,24; 13.3-10). Let us note some particulars of this memorial. It was to be observed by those who had been in slavery in Egypt and for their descendants. It had no significance or meaning to the Philistines or the Canaanites. They had no reason to remember this event.
The manner of observance was also significant. They could not do just anything. The importance of observing this memorial correctly is seen in the condemnation that was pronounced upon them for failure in this area (2 Kings 23.21-22). How did Josiah know of the Passover? Its observance had not been remembered for several hundred years. Why not? The answer lies in the people’s failure in another area: The failure to pass the story accurately from one generation to another. This nation was given laws, statutes, and ordinances from Mt. Sinai through Moses (Exodus 20-40). They were given explicit instructions to adhere strictly to those laws (Deuteronomy 4.1-10). They failed to obey these instructions.
In 2 Kings 22.1-20, when the Law was discovered (and read aloud to the people), then the truth about the observance of the Passover was learned and immediate changes were ordered so as to do as God had commanded of this nation. The punishment for disobedience was also discovered in the reading of the Law of Moses. Josiah knew what needed to be done to avoid further wrath from God, and he knew the importance of abandoning present practice. Their worship was corrupted, for they had incorporated idolatrous practices of the heathen nations into their worship. Josiah restored true worship in accordance with the Book of the Law and he demanded a recommitment to the keeping of that Law.
Failure to teach the will of God accurately is the ultimate cause of any departure. This happened repeatedly to this nation. After Moses died, Joshua led them into the land of promise (Canaan). Following Joshua’s death, we read in Judges 2.7,10, “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel, and also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.” This is what happened in regard to the Passover memorial. It is the same pattern of failure in any departure.
Let us resolve to be as Josiah upon learning the truth on any subject in God’s word, thereby ensuring our religion to be “pure and undefiled” (James 1.27).