Summary: Memorial Day is when we remember our lost loved ones and also the many soldiers who died in the numerous wars of our country fought over the past few hundred years; and this message focuses on “Remembering Our Freedom.”
Tomorrow is Memorial Day; therefore, we will observe this special day with a message from the Word. I wish to begin by sharing some of the history behind Memorial Day; however, I have encountered two separate versions of the story on how this holiday began, and so, I am going to present both accounts for you this morning. One story reads like this:
In April 1863, in Columbus, Mississippi after decorating the graves of her two sons who served during the Civil War as Confederate soldiers, an elderly woman also decorated two mounds at the corner of the cemetery. An observer asked, “What are you doing? Those are the graves of two Union soldiers.” Her reply, “I know. I also know that somewhere in the North, a mother or a young wife mourns for them as we do for ours.” [This lady and a few others] set in motion what became known as Memorial Day.(1)
The other version of the story reads as follows:
The custom of placing flowers on the graves of the war began on May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, New York, and Waterloo has been recognized by Congress as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. In 1868, General John A. Logan, then president of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared that May 30th would be a day to “decorate with flowers the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” After World War I the day was set aside to honor all of the American wars, and the custom was extended to pay homage to deceased relatives and friends, both military and civilian.(2)
Memorial Day is when we remember our lost loved ones and also the many soldiers who died in the numerous wars of our country fought over the past few hundred years; and today, I wish to help us reflect on the reason why our soldiers died: They gave their lives because they were fighting for our freedom. Therefore, this morning we will focus on “Remembering Our Freedom,” as the title of our message conveys. Let us now stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word, as we look at Exodus 12:14a and Exodus 13:3a:
A Day of Memorial
Exodus 12:14a – 14 So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations.
Exodus 13:3a – 3 And Moses said to the people: “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place.”
In the two verses we just read, Moses told all the children of Israel that “this day shall be to you a memorial,” and “you shall keep it,” and also “remember this day.” What day was Moses referring to that the Israelites were supposed to remember? The answer is the day of Passover.
If you’ll recall the story, the night of Passover was when the Israelites were commanded to kill a lamb and spread its blood on the two doorposts and lintel of their homes (Exodus 12:3, 7); thus, making the sign of a cross by this action. That night the Lord sent a plague throughout the land of Egypt, and whoever had their door marked by the blood of the lamb, death passed over them; thus the name Passover (Exodus 12:13). Symbolically, this represented our salvation from spiritual death by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
The Egyptians, however, did not have their doorposts marked; therefore, their firstborn were struck dead (Exodus 12:12). The very next morning, Pharaoh was so tired of striving with the Lord that he finally allowed the Israelites to depart from Egypt (Exodus 12:31). The Passover represented their freedom from slavery; and this is what Moses commanded the people to remember: the day of their freedom.
The Cost of Freedom
I want us to take a few moments to reflect on our country’s freedom. The official day of our freedom was on July 4, 1776 when the thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence and sent it to England to be read by King George III.(3) Even though the thirteen colonies declared freedom as an independent nation, the people were not yet completely free. There were numerous wars to be fought and many lives to be paid as the cost for freedom. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the estimated casualties that have resulted from our country’s fight for freedom over the past three centuries:
In the Revolutionary War 33,000 soldiers died; in the War of 1812 7,000 soldiers died; in the Mexican War 13,000 perished; during the Civil War 980,000 died; in the Spanish-American War 4,000 died; in World War I 320,000 U.S. soldiers gave their lives; in World War II 1,078,000 died; in the Korean War 157,000 soldiers perished; during the Vietnam War 111,000 gave their lives; in the Gulf War there were 700; and in the War on Terror in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been nearly 7000 deaths.(4) This is not a comprehensive list of all the American wars; however, a total of the figures presented reveal that there have been an estimated 2,710,700 U.S. soldiers who have died over the past three centuries.