Summary: A Memorial Day sermon remembering the sacrifice of soldiers as well as the sacrifice of our Lord. The Lord's Supper is a fitting memorial. The Gettysburg address was a fitting memorial in 1863, but the words of Jesus are a lasting memorial.
May 28, 2017
"A Fitting Memorial"
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.