Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, commemorates those heroes who’ve died in service of the United States of America. This solemn occasion is rooted in honor of those who gave their lives during the Civil War (1861 to 1865). Ever since U.S. General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the 30th of May as the official date in 1868, honor has been given to those who gave their lives defending their country.
On May 5, 1868, General Logan gave General Order No. 11 which proclaimed,
“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
Today, Americans continue carrying out the proclamation. Graves are still decorated with markers, flowers, and flags in cemeteries all around the country in memory of these brave, dedicated soldiers. The solemn occasion also features speeches, services, parades and even old war movies to express appreciation for our heroes. All of these traditions mark Memorial Day as a time to pay reverence to those who sacrificed their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to preserve our precious freedom.
Speaking of Memorial Day, I am reminded of the memorial stones that were laid during the time of Joshua in the Bible. Just as we mark our holiday with decorations and events that show reverence to our heroes, God commanded Joshua to incorporate a very sacred occasion with memorials. But, unlike using these memorial stones to remember fallen soldiers, they were used to remind future generations that a new leader in Joshua has been chosen. And now he is bringing them to a new land promised to them for all time under God’s providence and power.
So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever. (Joshua 4:4-7, New American Standard Bible, NASB.)
The crossing of the Jordan River was a momentous event. Israel’s great leader and lawgiver, Moses, who delivered the people from Egyptian bondage and led them through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, had died. They were just about to enter the land promised to them from the time of Abraham. It was now time for Joshua, Moses’ successor, to lead the people across the Jordan River to establish them in the land given to them by God.
Two sets of memorials in the form of stone monuments commemorating the crossing of the Jordan River on dry ground were erected. One set of 12 memorial stones (one for each tribe representative who carried a stone) were placed in the bed of the river. The other set of 12 memorial stones were placed at Gilgal, the site of their first encampment after their crossing. Gilgal means “a circle of stones.” These were to serve as sacred memorials reminding generations to come of the power of the Lord in their quest to occupy the land he gave them long before (Josh. 4:19-24).
These memorial stones signifying the crossing of the Jordan reminded the people of all that God had done to save Israel and carry out his plans for the nation. It has been compared to salvation —from a dry, barren wilderness to a new land of prosperity and beauty; from an old life of sin to a new life of grace; from leaving a life of wandering to a life of purpose and meaning.
In a way, the memorial stones set up by Joshua are not unlike the objects we use to show our reverence on Memorial Day. The memorials then and now get us to think about the past and remember what it took to get where we are. Both memorials help each generation to appreciate the efforts put forth by those before us who gave for a greater cause. And they also serve to remind us that a better and brighter day for those in Christ is coming— when we cross over from wandering day to day in this present mortal existence to the new day when we put on immortality and possess the Promised Land in God’s glorious Kingdom.
Let us praise God with memorials of reverence in appreciation for our blessings and all that we enjoy because of those we remember on Memorial Day.
Good News to YOU!
P.S. Here is a Memorial Day Tribute to heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom: http://youtu.be/_P-HpmohQZM