The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” With that foundational perspective, the Founding Fathers of our nation continued to enumerate the grievances against the King of Great Britain and the reasons for this declaration, essentially stating that they were pursuing action to restore their God-given rights as human beings which the King had denied. Concluding their argument and announcement, they also stated, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” signaling their willingness and intent to sacrifice all they had to restore those rights to themselves, to their fellow citizens, and for future generations. With that declaration, not only was this country born but its people set themselves on a course of restoration through sacrifice.
Considering the closeness of the dates of our observations of Memorial Day and Independence Day, the relationship between those holidays is important to consider. Certainly, the Founding Fathers considered those “unalienable rights” to be worth fighting and dying for, and for that reason, more than simply celebrating independence won, we also remember those who sacrificed all to secure that freedom – for themselves, for their families, for their countrymen, and for us, as well. Clearly, there is a delicate tension between being grateful for the sacrifices of those who have served, fought, and died for the sake of freedom and celebrating freedom won through their sacrifice – I can’t describe the discomfort I feel whenever I hear someone saying, “Happy Memorial Day!”
Greater still is the discomfort I wrestle with whenever I think or talk about “celebrating” the Lord’s Supper. In the memorial supper that we observe every Sunday, we not only remember Jesus’ broken body when we eat the bread and remember his spilled blood when we drink from the cup, as Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 22 and as Paul reminded the early church in 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, but we also proclaim it (vs. 26). Memorial Day parades, speeches, and ceremonies help us to remember the sacrifices, but they also proclaim that those sacrifices were made to secure something worthy of the sacrifices. Of much greater importance, our “celebration” of the Lord’s Supper not only reminds us of Jesus’ sacrifice but also proclaims that our salvation is worthy of his sacrifice.
While the signers of the Declaration were likely unsure of the outcome of their words and actions, as I am certain are all who enter the service of their country, they pursued a higher purpose and good, willing to sacrifice everything they had for the sake of others. While the commemorations of Memorial Day focus our attention on what others have sacrificed for our country and for ourselves, Jesus’ sacrifice overshadows it all, having secured the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for everyone who puts their faith in God, as John reminded the early church in 1 John 2:2, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Sometimes it seems that the emphasis on remembrance is focused primarily on gratitude, whether at Memorial Day or at the Lord’s Supper. Yes, we ought to be grateful for the sacrifices made on our behalf, but remembrance ought to prompt an active response, especially through our faith. While Memorial Day observations remind us of our freedom, for which we ought to be thankful, they truly ought to prompt us to live as good citizens, working toward common good. More than that, however, our remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper should reveal both gratitude and transformation, his sacrifice enabling us to serve and lead others to new life in Jesus, following his example of sacrifice to restore others.