I’m not particularly patriotic.
I pledge allegiance to the flag and I am grateful to the sons of friends now serving, but I am unwilling to say, “my country right or wrong” when I know there are good people in other countries saying the same thing and when I am called to be a citizen of a different kingdom.
That said, there are times to specifically remember specific people.
The man who died one Easter morning in Korea sitting in a jeep next to my dad. The uncle I never knew, dying young from exposure to something in the Arizona desert while a soldier.
These two men are connected to me. Their deaths are not abstractions, any more than their lives were. A man that I know knew them and cared about them.
It is not being patriotic to remember them today, it is being human.
I cannot on this day remember deaths on behalf of other people without remembering Jesus. I know. He gets his own memorial day. We call it Good Friday in a peculiar twist of language. But if Memorial Day is about remembering people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, have paid the ultimate price, then including Jesus on that day seems right.
There is a bit of a problem, however. The earlier name for Memorial Day was Decoration Day. Graves of soldiers and veterans were decorated with flags and flowers. The tangibility of decorating helps us remember. Having something to do makes things more real than talking about them or merely thinking about them.
Jesus helped with the process of having something to do by offering his followers bread and wine. “When you eat and drink,” he said, “you remember my death.”
A clear memorial.
But now – how, exactly, do you decorate an empty grave?