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What Memorial Day teaches us about Jesus’ sacrifice

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May 31, 2021

Today, we celebrate Memorial Day. This national holiday is often accompanied by time off from work, barbecues in the backyard, and, of course, the local furniture store’s savings. But there is more to Memorial Day than a burger, a flag, and a day off.

The history 

The origins of this holiday are not entirely uniform. Sometime following the Civil War, a host of towns and communities began to set aside their own day to commemorate and remember the lives of soldiers lost during America’s deadliest war. Some Southern states even set aside dates to remember Confederates lost in the war. The form we recognize today didn’t come until 1966 when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared Memorial Day an official national holiday.

The significance 

The fact that a host of different communities felt it necessary to mark days to remember the fallen strikes a chord of transcendence that is present in every human heart. We rightly recognize that to sacrifice one’s life for their country and friends is noble, honorable, and courageous. And among the countless sacrifices our troops have made, we rank and give more reverence to those that are deemed greater. The highest award that can be bestowed upon anyone in the American military is the Congressional Medal of Honor. The famous words that accompany the citation of this honor traditionally read, “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”

The sacrifice

Any given sacrifice is measured by two questions. First, what was given up? And secondly, what was achieved? The greater the sacrifice and the accomplishment, the greater the reverence and awe that brushes, and even haunts, our sense of wonder. Memorial Day, in all its tradition and splendor, is but a distant echo of a sacrifice that should stir our hearts to marvel and long for an even greater sacrifice; something superior to the collective valor our finest heroes could ever muster. 

Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten son of God from all of eternity, taking on flesh and giving himself up to die for his sheep is so marvelous and glorious that it is hard for us to comprehend  it unless it is measured against the greatest of human sacrifices. 

While a Medal of Honor recipient made a tangible sacrifice, it is temporal; yet Christ’s is eternal. 

While the sacrifice of a service member who dies in combat is the most any one person can give, what Christ gave up was the only perfect life to have ever lived. 

While a solider can die for their comrades, it is Christ who died to make it possible for enemies to be reconciled to him as friends. 

And while we can honor the freedom we enjoy in our country because of the many who have fought and died for it, we must not lose sight of the truth that Christ’s death brings the greatest freedom one can hope for — a freedom from the bondage of sin and death.

The shuffle of Memorial Day makes it easy to overlook the weightiness of remembering the lives lost for noble causes. Yet, more tragically, the pace of our lives often leads us forget to the greatest sacrifice in human history. This Memorial Day, enjoy time with your family, grilling out, and time off from work. But, Christian, do not let your heart fixate on a temporal human sacrifice and forget the Lord of glory, who purchased you with an eternal one.

Josh Holler

Josh Holler is an associate pastor at First Baptist Church Duncan in Duncan, Oklahoma. He is a husband, father, and author of Redeeming Warriors: Veteran Suicide, Grieving, and the Fight for Faith (Christian Focus). Josh is pursuing his Ph.D. in Ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Read More