Lest We Forget: Reflections Heavenward on Memorial Day

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Drizzle dappled the path and steeped the morning in melancholy. My kids sat in their red wagon and occasionally inquired about the trumpets and clarinets clutched to chests the elementary school band. They covered their ears when rifle shots cracked the air. We pointed out gravestones as Boy Scouts laid flowers on them, continuing the tradition followed by generations since the Civil War.

Headstones fringed the hillside. Before many of them stood small acrylic flags, folded on themselves amid a scrabble of dew-slicked grass. In some cases, the names etched into granite, more than a century old, denoted stories we would never completely know, faces we would never see. Others elicited tears from people in the crowd whose grief remained raw and tender. All epitomized sacrifice, life given to ensure our freedom.

On this day, the gifts of fallen soldiers felt near, palpable and heavy in the air. Yet how easily we forget. When the holiday passes, we return to our routines: emails, paychecks, diaper changes, commutes, deadlines. Monotony we take for granted each day. Luxuries accessible to us only through the sacrifices of soldiers, those who died so we might be free.

Even the origin of Memorial Day has drifted from public consciousness. A day meant to commemorate fallen soldiers now signals the arrival of summer. We relish the opportunity to tuck away sweaters and flaunt our pastels. We rejoice over backyard barbecues with a couple of six packs, grilled chicken, and babyback ribs.

Even the origin of Memorial Day has drifted from public consciousness.

Such celebrations are not wrong. On the contrary, revelry gives our gratitude light and color. It lends music and expression to the deep stirrings of the heart. Yet when we focus on the festive trappings without reflection on the day’s somber motive, we dishonor those who served, and the families who still mourn them. We shun those who demonstrated the greatest love possible by laying down their lives for us (John 15:13).

Forgetting His Goodness

Our memory’s limits are hardly new. Our tendency to forget truth and goodness in favor of our passions and self-interest has haunted us for millennia. It originated in the garden, when Adam and Eve cast God from their minds, and it has scourged us ever since.

When God liberated the Israelites from Egypt, he released plagues, turned the Nile into blood, darkened the daylight, saved his people from death, parted the sea, provided them with food from heaven, and drew water from a rock. Yet at the earliest opportunity, his goodness and faithfulness receded from their minds. They forgot his gifts and sought debauchery and idols (Ex. 32:1–5). “The people of Israel did not remember the LORD their God, who had delivered them from the hand of all their enemies on every side” (Judg. 8:34).

The apostle Peter vowed to die for Jesus rather than deny him (Matt. 26:35). He had witnessed Jesus quiet the turbulent seas, feed 5,000 men, heal multitudes, and raise friends from the dead. Yet these miracles couldn’t secure his steadfastness, and when personally threatened, Peter abandoned the Lord (Luke 22:54–62).

How often in our daily routines do we also forget the greatness of our merciful, loving, holy God? How often do we sit dutifully in the pews every Sunday, only to forget the Lord’s work as we exit the church building? How often do we recite prayers by rote, without meditation on the one to whom we speak? Do we remember, with every breath, with the fullness of our beings, the unfathomable, perfect, life-renewing sacrifice of Christ Jesus?

Remembering His Sacrifice

Scientists once compared memory formation to bank deposits. A specific part of the brain, they theorized, acted as a repository for memory storage and retrieval. Current research reveals that memory is far more dynamic. It involves connectivity between multiple parts of the brain, with emotion, visual stimuli, and sound augmenting networks between synapses. The more deeply we feel, the more vividly we remember. The more acutely we see and hear, the more firmly we cement a moment into our minds.

The more deeply we feel, the more vividly we remember.

Similarly, to remain at the forefront of our thoughts, our faith must not reside inert within us but infuse all we think and do. It must connect with our most visceral fears and deepest joys. It must intertwine with our sight, our voice, and our convictions. The living water of Christ Jesus must pour into every moment. We can’t relegate remembrance of God to a single day or to the confines of a sanctuary. Memory of Christ must transform us. It must mold our hearts, guide our actions, and clear our vision. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

Even when we fail—which, born in sin, we shall (Ps. 51:5)—we rest in the assurance that God always remembers his people. “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Ex. 2:24). “But God remembered Noah. . . . ‘I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh’” (Gen. 8:1; 9:15). “For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Ps. 106:45). While we fail to honor him, God remains infinitely faithful to us.

Our nature as sinful beings is to forget what springs from God’s goodness. Daily, we must pray for the capacity to bind remembrance of Christ to our hearts. Yet when we can’t, the Lord who condescended to live and die among us remains faithful until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). He loves us, and he remembers us. Even when the names of his fallen, forgiven people fade into history, the Lord knows them, remembers their sacrifice, and draws them to himself.

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