Summary: Memorializing requires us to become responsible for the history that we make by the lives we live.
Six years ago this Memorial Day weekend, Susan and I took a 10-day vacation to the wonderful state of Virginia. As part of that vacation we spent sometime in Richmond with friends and toured, among other sites, the battlefield at Petersburg located south of Richmond.
Petersburg was critical to the defense of Richmond, which for most of the Civil War was the capital of the confederacy. If the Union Army was able to penetrate and capture Petersburg, then Richmond was vulnerable. The Union Army finally captured Petersburg and, in the spring of 1865, the confederacy was in its death throes.
One of the famous landmarks of the Petersburg battlefield is the crater. Some enterprising Union soldiers and officers came up with the idea of digging a tunnel under the rebel lines, filling it with explosives and detonating it so that a huge gap could be opened up for the Union army.
Well, it was detonated but things did not go exactly as planned. There was confusion and the Union Army suffered casualties. It did not accomplished what had been hoped for. But, Petersburg’s doom was still not far away.
There is something else about that battlefield. There are these stone monuments all around the battlefield. They serve as a reminder, first to those who served and their families, and now to those of us, who were not there, of who was there and who gave their lives for the cause.
On this Memorial Day weekend, thousands, if not millions of American flags, dot the landscapes of cemeteries, large and small, both in this country as well as in other countries as we pay tribute to those who served our nation in times of peace as well as war. On this weekend, we remember and we give thanks to family and friends, living and dead, who served in defense of freedom and democracy.
Memorials are not an American invention however. For as long as humanity has existed, there have been memorials erected for various reasons. There have been these stone reminders, dug up by archeologists, which have helped us understand the history of ancient days.
The Bible contains numerous references to places of memory that become significant to our faith and which are so noted by the placement of simple stones. Some are significant because they represent a change in a person’s direction and we can personally identify with that change.
Other places are significant because they represent key points in the lives of groups of people such as families and nations. They point out moments that we still face in the 21st century regarding our values, choices, and commitments and whether or not we are going to stick by them.
Our main Bible text for this day is the record of such an event. It is Joshua 4:1-9.
“When all the people were safely across the river, the Lord said to Joshua, “Now choose twelve men, one from each tribe. Tell the men to take twelve stones from where the priests are standing in the middle of the Jordan and pile them up at the place where you camp tonight.
So Joshua called together the twelve men and told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the Lord your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder-twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes. We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, “What do these stones mean to you?” Then you can tell them, “They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s covenant went across. These stones will stand as a permanent memorial among the people of Israel.
So the men did as Joshua told them. They took the twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River, one for each tribe, just as the Lord had commanded Joshua. They carried them to the place where they camped for the night and constructed the memorial there.
Joshua also built another memorial of twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, at the place where the priest who carried the Ark of the Covenant were standing. The memorial remains there to this day.”
Those stones were placed there to remind the people of God’s intervention in their lives to free them from their bondage and slavery and to fulfill His purpose that ultimately led to our freedom at Calvary.
Memorializing forces us to remember. It requires us to look back, for the right and sometimes hard reasons. God wanted the Israelites to remember why they where were in the Promise Land and who it was that brought them there. That is why he told Joshua to create the memorials.