Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, was instituted to honor the Civil War dead. Local observances were held as early as 1866, many of them in the South where most of the war dead were buried. The first official and large observance took place on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, which held the remains of twenty thousand Union soldiers and several hundred Confederate dead. Five thousand people attended the ceremony.
New York was the first state to declare the holiday, in 1873; other states quickly followed. After World War I, citizens expanded the observance to honor those who died in all American wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and changed the date to the last Monday of May. In recent years, many use the occasion to decorate the graves of loved ones.
Under God’s direction, the Israelites had “Memorial Day” celebrations to help them remember major events in their history. They celebrated Passover each year to commemorate their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt. When Jesus ate his last Passover meal, he instituted a new memorial to commemorate the deliverance from slavery to sin that he would accomplish for all believers through his death. As he shared the bread and wine with his disciples, he instructed them to eat and drink in remembrance of him.
The speaker at the first official Memorial Day service urged the audience to tend the graves of the dead soldiers to testify that our country had not forgotten the cost of a free, undivided republic. When we take part in the Lord’s Supper we are testifying that we remember the cost of our salvation. We are celebrating a “Memorial Meal” in honor of the One who won the war against death and sin.
Dianne Neal Matthews
The One Year “On This Day” Devotional
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.