May 28, 2017
"A Fitting Memorial"
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Tomorrow our nation honors the memory of those who died for our country. We call it Memorial Day. Perhaps no greater tragedy took place in our nation's history than the War Between the States. Brother against brother. American against American.
The Battle at Gettysburg in July 1863 was especially devastating. Neither General Lee or General Meade had wanted a confrontation at Gettysburg, but General Pettigrew's North Carolina brigade was marching barefoot, its shoes long since worn out. When an advertisement for men's shoes appeared in the Gettysburg paper, Pettigrew was ordered on a 9-mile barefoot march to seize the shoes. The Union side spotted them and the eventual battle took place. In the battle, 21 Union and Confederate generals were killed or wounded. As Lee retreated into Virginia, the ambulance wagons stretched out some 17 miles long. Lee had suffered 28,000 casualties; Meade, 18,000.
On November 19, Edward Everett gave the main speech dedicating the Gettysburg cemetery. The ceremony was delayed for a month because Senator Everett had declined to speak unless he was given more time to prepare an appropriate speech. Everett was asked to speak because he was known as a dynamic speaker and had been a U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative, Secretary of State, Governor of Massachusetts, President of Harvard and a V.P. Candidate. Almost as an afterthought, the committee asked President Lincoln to speak as well, just 17 days before the ceremony. He was simply asked to deliver a few brief remarks.
The ceremony was held before an audience of 15,000 people who had gathered that morning to catch a glimpse of the President, only to listen instead as Mr. Everett gave a speech lasting some two hours! Everett’s speech contained 13,607 words. After this long oration, Lincoln stood, wearing glasses as he glanced at his notes. He was on his feet less than three minutes, delivering just ten concise sentences, 268 words in all.
After he spoke, newspapers reported that he inserted two words which were not originally included in his written draft -- "under God". In fact, scholars debate whether he actually said "that this nation (under God) shall have a new birth of freedom”…or not. Some of the five remaining copies contain the phrase and some do not.
In that magnificent speech, I like to think that Lincoln said, "under God". How can you leave out God? No memorial service would be complete without acknowledging the Almighty.
While historians debate what Lincoln actually said, the Apostle Paul, playing the role of historian, leaves no room for debate. He recorded the words of a memorial service conducted by our Lord Jesus Christ, which left no doubt of its purpose:
READ: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Maybe Jesus knew that we would have a tendency to forget. Maybe he understood that we sometimes get carried away with our holidays, our celebrations, our ceremonies, our services and we forget the one who died for us.
Even Lincoln said in his speech: "The world will little note, nor long
remember, what we say here...."
Jesus wanted to insure that his followers would never forget what he did for us, so he gave us a most fitting memorial - the Lord's Supper. Bread to represent his body and the juice of the grape to represent his blood… a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for our sins.
1. The Lord's Supper is a fitting memorial because there is no grave.
Lincoln helped consecrate a cemetery that would serve as a witness to the death of many soldiers in their cause for freedom.
On Confederate memorial day, every April, my fellow Boy Scouts and I would place confederate flags on the graves of Civil War veterans buried in Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville. It served as a reminder of their sacrifice.
But, there is no grave for our Lord! He conquered death. For forty days he walked and talked with his disciples. On the fortieth day he ascended into heaven. On the fiftieth day after he had been crucified, the church began, on Pentecost.
The Lord's Supper is our memorial which looks back to the blood that was shed, not on the battlefield, but on the cross. Jesus died for the cause of freedom too. Freedom from our sins.
The Lord's Supper reminds us of that every week. (The Christian Church/Church of Christ observes the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.) There was a price paid for our forgiveness. And just as the Texans cried out: "Remember the Alamo" - remember a sacrifice paid. We, as Christians, observe the Lord's Supper, which reminds us of the Lord's words: “This do in remembrance of me".
2. The Lord's Supper is a fitting memorial because it promises hope.
Lincoln had said in his Gettysburg address: "...we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
Those words inspired hope in a nation torn apart. The Lord's Supper is a memorial that inspires hope to all believers in Jesus. It proclaims the Lord's sacrificial death, an act of forgiveness for the entire world. Jesus died in our place. He offered his life for our sins. It was an act done not out of obligation, but out of love. Each week the Lord's Supper reminds us never to forget the love that set us free from the burden of sin.
But, it is also a memorial that promises hope. We proclaim Jesus, through the Lord's Supper, "until He comes".
You see, there will be a new birth of freedom for us all one day. Jesus will return. The heavens will open up, He will descend, the dead in Christ will arise with a resurrected body and we will go
to be forever with the Lord.
This "new birth of freedom" will include a new body, and an eternal life freed of the pains, sorrows, worries, and death of this world. Whether it occurs in our lifetime or not, is unknown. Only God
knows the time. But the memorial that Jesus began, called the Lord's Supper, says to us...."Be ready".
So many memorials bring sorrow to our hearts. The Lord's Supper is a memorial that brings freedom and hope.
Edward Everett, who made the principal address at the Gettysburg cemetery, wrote to Lincoln: "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."
Whereas Lincoln inspired a nation with only 268 words, Jesus gave hope to a world and all generations of people for all time, including all of us in this room today, when he said in less than 35 words: "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you
drink it, in remembrance of me."
Let this Memorial day remind you of those who sacrificed their lives for this nation. How selfish and ungrateful we would be not to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom. But, as Christians, let every Sunday be a memorial day of the sacrifice of our Lord and the promise of his return. How selfish and ungrateful we would be not to remember what He has done for us.